While White House officials remained mostly quiet Tuesday evening in the hours after President Trump abruptly dismissed FBI Director James Comey, some suggested the arrival of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was a key factor in the timing of Trump's decision.
Rosenstein, who was confirmed by the Senate on April 25, issued a forceful memo Tuesday that cited Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email case as a major consideration in his recommendation that Trump remove Comey.
White House officials suggested Rosenstein's arrival at the Justice Department two weeks earlier played a role in the timing of Comey's termination, given that the rationale for his removal — his conduct during the presidential race — occurred 10 months before the deputy attorney general recommended that the president dismiss him.
A White House source told the Washington Examiner that administration officials would also hold Democrats to their prior criticism of Comey, both during the Clinton email probe and during his more recent public statements about his decision-making in that investigation.
Rosenstein said Comey was "wrong to usurp the attorney general's authority" when he convened a press conference in July 2016 and laid out a scathing case against Clinton and her associates before announcing that the FBI would not recommend charges against anyone involved.
Comey had done so without consulting then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Republicans excoriated him at the time for making what appeared to be a prosecutorial decision that would typically be left to the Justice Department.
Democrats, on the other hand, have blasted Comey for disclosing a second round of the email investigation just days before the election. They have also accused Comey of withholding information about the FBI's separate investigation into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russian hackers during the presidential race.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who joined Rosenstein in recommending Comey's firing on Tuesday, has recused himself from any legal decisions involving the Trump campaign, for which he was a high-level surrogate.
But Democratic lawmakers quickly touted Comey's removal as evidence that the Justice Department has become too politicized to handle the Russian probe, and many called for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the immediate aftermath of Trump's announcement.
One White House source pushed back on calls for a special prosecutor by noting that the lack of evidence at the heart of the Russian collusion allegations had not changed simply because Comey was removed.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rosenstein's role.
White House officials declined to hold a briefing for reporters Tuesday evening to explain the FBI director's sudden dismissal.