After a close reading of a memorandum, the Washington Examiner reported last week that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein never explicitly recommended that President Trump fire FBI Director James Comey.
And on Friday, Rosenstein confirmed what the Washington Examiner reported ten days earlier. "My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination," according to his prepared remarks to House and Senate lawmakers.
Unfortunately for the White House, Vice President Mike Pence and numerous senior aides were not so careful in their analysis. Again and again, they referred to the Rosenstein memo, which laid out all the ways Comey mishandled the Clinton email controversy, as a "recommendation."
Rosenstein reportedly bristled at that characterization of his work, a representation that makes him seem like a legal patsy. And his defense of his memorandum could reasonably be interpreted as a response to that charge.
The legal memo has played an oversized role in the Comey drama thanks to Trump's alternating account of the event.
"Regardless of recommendation," Trump first told NBC's Lester Holt last week, "I was going to fire Comey." But then yesterday, he switched his story indicating to reporters during a press conference that he acted after "getting a very, very strong recommendation from the Deputy Attorney General."
Whether or not the president is knowingly trying to pin his decision on his Deputy Attorney General, it's clear that Rosenstein won't be a party to making a paper trail.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.