Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein slammed former FBI Director James Comey for becoming a "partisan pundit" after President Trump fired him, cashing in by "selling books and earning speaking fees."
Rosenstein also said Comey's dismissal by Trump was "reasonable under the circumstances."
The former deputy attorney general, who left the Justice Department last week, delivered a speech Monday to business leaders in Baltimore. He addressed Comey's recent op-ed piece in which the former FBI director said "Trump eats your soul in small bites."
"Now the former director seems to be acting as a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul," Rosenstein said. "I kid you not. That is disappointing."
"Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally, we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony," he said.
Rosenstein said he once "admired" Comey — who was reportedly beloved in the Bureau — but his view changed after his mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, in which he cleared the Democratic presidential candidate in unusual fashion.
"The clearest mistake was the director’s decision to hold a press conference about an open case, reveal his recommendation and discuss details about the investigation, without the consent of the prosecutors and the attorney general," Rosenstein said. "Then, he chose to send a letter to the Congress on the eve of the election stating that one of the candidates was under criminal investigation, expecting it to be released immediately to the public."
"Those actions were not within the range of reasonable decisions. They were inconsistent with our goal of communicating to all FBI employees that they should respect the attorney general’s role, refrain from disclosing information about criminal investigations, avoid disparaging uncharged persons, and above all, not take unnecessary steps that could influence an election," Rosenstein said.
During the summer preceding the 2016 presidential election, Comey held a dramatic, last-minute press conference in which he said "no reasonable prosecutor" would proceed with charges against Clinton, although he did say she was "extremely careless" in handling classified information.
Rosenstein supported Trump's decision to fire Comey, saying that was "reasonable under the circumstances." But he did add that he would have given a fuller analysis of the "pros and cons" of firing Comey had he been "asked to make a recommendation before the removal decision was made."
"If I had been the decision maker, the removal would have been handled very differently, with far more respect and far less drama," Rosenstein said, "so I do not blame the former director for being angry."
But Rosenstein returned to the state of his soul, questioned by Comey in the former FBI director's recent op-ed.
"My soul and character are pretty much the same today as they were two years ago. I took a few hits and made some enemies during my time in the arena, but I held my ground and made a lot of friends. And thanks to them, I think I made the right calls on the things that mattered," he said.
And Rosenstein said he was not affected by partisan politics, instead regarding only the rule of law when he made prosecutorial decisions.
"People spend a lot of time debating whose side I was on, based on who seemed to benefit the most from any individual decision," Rosenstein said. "But trying to infer partisan affiliation from law enforcement decisions is what you might call a category error. It uses the wrong frame of reference."