Stephen Miller Claims that Trump’s Russian Investigation Line Was a Disclaimer

In this post, I noted that Trump (in his interview with the WSJ) appears to believe asking for and getting a letter from Rod Rosenstein justifying Jim Comey’s firing is proof that his firing of Comey wasn’t obstruction of justice. I suggested that that argument may have been planned from the start — and noted the proximity of that argument to the claim, which we know Jared Kushner provided, that Democrats would be thrilled by Comey’s firing.

Having suggested that there was more of a plan behind the orchestrated firing of Comey than we might imagine, I want to return to the Jake Tapper interview with Stephen Miller on Sunday.

Tapper asked Miller about his role in writing the initial draft of the letter that fired Comey, which NYT reported on this way:

Mr. McGahn successfully blocked the president from sending the letter — which Mr. Trump had composed with Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top political advisers — to Mr. Comey. But a copy was given to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who then drafted his own letter. Mr. Rosenstein’s letter was ultimately used as the Trump administration’s public rationale for Mr. Comey’s firing, which was that Mr. Comey had mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Mr. Rosenstein is overseeing Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt last year’s presidential election, as well as whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

Mr. McGahn’s concerns about Mr. Trump’s letter show how much he realized that the president’s rationale for firing Mr. Comey might not hold up to scrutiny, and how he and other administration officials sought to build a more defensible public case for his ouster.


Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Miller to draft a letter, and dictated his unfettered thoughts. Several people who saw Mr. Miller’s multi-page draft described it as a “screed.”

Mr. Trump was back in Washington on Monday, May 8, when copies of the letter were handed out in the Oval Office to senior officials, including Mr. McGahn and Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Trump announced that he had decided to fire Mr. Comey, and read aloud from Mr. Miller’s memo.

Some present at the meeting, including Mr. McGahn, were alarmed that the president had decided to fire the F.B.I. director after consulting only Ms. Trump, Mr. Kushner and Mr. Miller. Mr. McGahn began an effort to stop the letter or at least pare it back.


Rosenstein was given a copy of the original letter and agreed to write a separate memo for Mr. Trump about why Mr. Comey should be fired.

In the interview with Tapper, Miller claimed that the key claim the NYT said got removed — about Comey thrice telling Trump he wasn’t personally under investigation — was actually in the final letter.

Tapper: According to the New York Times, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has, in his possession, an early draft of a letter that you helped write, in May 2017, detailing reasons to fire FBI Director James Comey. According to the newspaper, the first line of the letter mentions the Russia investigation. Did you write a letter outlining the reasons to fire Comey and list the Russia investigation. Is that true?

Miller: Here’s the problem with what you’re saying: the final draft of the letter the one that was made —

Tapper: I’m not talking about that one, I’m talking about the one that Comey [sic] has that mentions Russia —

Miller: If you want to have an answer to your question and not to get hysterical, then I’ll answer it. The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump-Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.

Tapper: So it was just moved from the top to the bottom.

Miller: No. No! Look at the letter. It’s at the beginning. The investigation is referenced at the beginning of the final letter that was released to point out about the fact that notwithstanding, having been informed that there’s no investigation, that the um, the move that is happening is completely unrelated to that. So it was a disclaimer. It appeared in the final version of the letter that was made public.

Here’s the letter Trump sent to fire Comey. The passage Miller must be talking about reads,

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

That’s the passage that was so confounding when we all read that in real time.

And while I’m not prepared to believe Miller that that is the totality of the reference to Russia in the original letter — after all, this doesn’t even mention Russia — what I do think Miller provided proof for on national TV is that the connotation of that sentence changed from first to second draft, and in a way that he, Kushner, and Don McGahn all surely recognize.

In the first letter, according to McGahn and others, the “screed” listed the Russia investigation as a reason to fire Comey. Here, according to the guy who drafted it, it is meant to serve as a disclaimer, a denial that this firing was about the Russia investigation.

And that’s what Miller surely told Mueller’s investigators.

No wonder he kept ranting and had to be escorted off Tapper’s set. He just revealed, for everyone, how this second letter was designed to be misleading.

In the last week, Miller and Trump have told CNN and WSJ, respectively, about their cover-up.

Update: I forgot to reference this language from the NYT’s latest. The line originally said that the investigation was“fabricated and politically motivated.” If that reporting is correct then they also changed the wording of the reference to the investigation.

37 replies
  1. pseudonymous in nc says:

    “See, we stuck it at the bottom!”

    C+ Santa Monica fascist seems to think that Mueller’s team doesn’t have document comparison software when it used “track changes” to turn Manafort’s bail request into fusilli.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    Like many in the Kaiser’s palace, Miller doesn’t know when to stop. Like his uber-boss he thinks that dead air must be filled and so makes claims like this in order to baffle the MSM with BS. It’s a formula that has worked quite well for the Kaiser, so why not try it again?

    Fundamentally, it lays out clearly now (even before Kaiser Donald blabbed it to the Russians) that the conspiracy to obstruct justice was made on Air Force One with the input of Kaiser Donald. “Colluding” can be argued about as a crime, but “conspiracy” is one and the election statute (i.e. “law”) that bans foreign involvement or support in USA elections is the underlying criminal offense.

    Something very big is coming closer, based upon the Tweeto signaling index (the more, the wilder, the bigger the thing to hide).

  3. greengiant says:

    They don’t make shit out of thin air, they plagiarize and then change the meaning to suit their fancy. Re: wordsmithing to Akhmetshin the employee, Grassley’s letter of April 28

    “That unregistered work was reportedly conducted with a former Russian intelligence operative, Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, and appears to have been occurring simultaneous to Fusion GPS’s work overseeing the creation of the dossier.

    Becomes tweet fodder July 11. ( assuming the federalist hasn’t done a 1984 number ),

    “FUSION GPS employee, former Russian intelligence operative, Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin oversaw creation of the dossier”

    Note Simpson’s “not to my knowledge” reply to “Has Mr. Akhmetshin ever been paid by Fusion GPS”

  4. Domye West says:

    I am so confused about all of this. I think it’s because when I see Miller’s face, or hear his voice, I fly into an uncontrollable rage and forget the point. The guy is just gross.

    What is the significance of he/kush/McGahn knowing the difference between the drafts of the letter? That the connotation of the Russia line changed, so in the first draft it must been written to imply something other than what is said in the 2nd draft?

    OT: I very much enjoyed your segment on The Real News. I wish you would post it here and do a little write up about it. I have much to say.

  5. Trip says:

    Maybe the first draft was much more telling, but I fail to see how the second draft really separates Trump from the real reasons for the firing.  If Trump had said in his immigration meeting last night, “Disclaimer: I am not a racist, but how about no people from these shithole (black) countries, let’s bring in more people from (white) “Normay” instead”, would the ‘disclaimer’ have meant anything, or convinced anyone that his comment wasn’t racist by virtue of the denial coming first?

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Should someone tell the Don that having decided to fire Comey for one reason, then orchestrating a slew of other more presentable reasons to explain it, does not avoid a charge of obstruction?  It makes it more likely.

    Common corporate deceit in the firing process might avoid scrutiny by all but the immediate players – there’s an industry of consultants and HR “professionals” who make it so.  But when the president does it to the director of the FBI, the deceit gets noticed.  It becomes evidence of guilty knowledge and wrongful intent, which is what can make the exercise of a lawful power criminal, even when the president does it.

    • emptywheel says:

      Precisely. It seems there’s far more evidence showing that how Trump fired Comey reeked of obstruction.

      Though for the life of me I still don’t understand how DAG Rosenstein is overseeing this investigation.

      • Trip says:

        That’s why he was pulled into it. To create an entanglement. The fact that he allowed himself to be brought into it shows he is integrity-deficient, or he is playing the role of an accomplice, to stay in the game, keep the investigation going and not be fired. I have a hard time believing he is squeaky clean, since as has borne out with most of ‘the adults’ surrounding Trump, they actually share approval of the policies created under his administration. They aren’t simply there to save the country* (*see Kelly and his gratuitous empty barrel comments).

      • Avattoir says:

        He’s not dumb; he was Harvard Law Review. So I’m thinking, he realizes this is the very last job he’ll ever have with any federal administration. That would explain the increasingly evident bouts of testiness. He’s not a brave, principled person; he’s not good at this.

        What did Comey call him? “a survivor”

        Either he’s figured out some path – which raises the soundness of his record with such strategies, a factor which surely would manifest as a constant bug eating away at him – or else he’s waiting, for … something.

        Doesn’t this sort of render his struggle something akin to what John Dean struggled with in advance of his testimony in June 1973? Dean, too, was quite the weasel, before he turned on Nixon.

        • Trip says:

          One more thing to add: I recently watched a segment where the interviewer asked Dean if Nixon had been aware of the break-in. A flash of conflict passed over his face for a second, making him look painfully uncomfortable, and he then said that Nixon didn’t know. It didn’t seem believable, but then we’ll never know since 18 minutes of tape was erased (due to the way a secretary leaned over the machine. /s)

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I like the final version’s first paragraph.  Trump’s excuse: “Jim, you did  yur dooty and protected me, but I gotta fire ya anyway, cause yur doing the rest of ur job to well.  Cops are supposed to be stupid, not professional.  Besides, yur taller’n me.”

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The elaborateness of Trump’s deceit – the time and energy devoted to it, the number of people involved, what else was made to wait while he concentrated on it – is a tell that the deception, avoiding the real reason for his action, was vitally important to the Don.  It’s not the sort of evidence a defendant would normally want a prosecutor to have.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Even those who say watch not what Trump says, but what he does, should see by now that what he says IS what he does.

    As for the nativist, racist, anti-immigrants in and outside the White House, the US is no longer the only game in town. A long list of highly competitive countries that are better places to learn, live, heal and work than the current United States would love to have the talented immigrants Mr. Trump wants to keep out or to send back to their shithole countries.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Donald Trump doesn’t use racism to achieve a political effect.

      Donald Trump uses racism because he’s a racist.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Donald Trump, reading his proclamation about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, could have been reading the Nicene Creed in Latin.  He didn’t have a clue who or what he was talking about.  Except that the guy was African American.

      So long as he remains President, Mr. Trump would most honor Dr. King by shuttling off to Mar-a-Lago, a place where he can be himself without inflicting that on the rest of us.

      • Trip says:

        When Donald Trump reads, it  makes me recall awkward moments of being called upon to read aloud in early elementary school, when translating words on a page was new.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        More likely repeating what flows in from his earbuds.  He’s not much of a reader. He’s hidden it for a long time, which means he’s very sensitive about it, which means it’s a serious problem.

  10. Shoshana says:

    Screeds are used to create millstones.

    If you people knew anything about construction, or the Bible for that matter, you people would know that.

    They were talking about construction not obstruction.

    • RZ says:

      They were talking about a long tedious document that was nothing but a bunch of dirty old scraps tied loosely together.

      screed (n.)

      early 14c., “fragment,” also “strip of cloth,” from northern England dialectal variant of Old English screade (see shred (n.)). Meaning “lengthy speech” is first recorded 1789, from notion of reading from a long list.


      • Shoshana says:

        Screed is a noun, a verb, and adjective in the construction technology industry. Lots of things get buried in concrete slabs and walls. What was that rallying cry again?

        • RZ says:

          No reasonable person would understand this particular use of the word “screed” as you want it to be understood.



    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I’m not sure your comment, or perhaps your sense of humor, is adding the value you think it does.

  11. gedouttahear says:

    I think it is very possible that the reason Rosenstein has not recused himself from the investigation is to protect himself, based on this reasoning:

    Unless Rosenstein can be shown to have agreed to make up a pretext for the firing (in contradistinction from just writing a recommendation based on Comey’s decision and announcement of reasons not to prosecute Clinton) then Rosenstein is not in jeopardy. (Comey did act improperly in the Clinton matter according to Justice Department guidelines.)

    Likely, Rosenstein and Mueller have discussed whether Rosenstein may be implicated or required as a fact witness and Mueller has probably concluded he isn’t and therefore there is no conflict here.

    Rosenstein is aware that trump and his gang are seeking to make Rosenstein the fall guy in the firing of Comey. If Mueller gets fired and a trump sympathetic flunky replaces him, then Rosenstein may be in the shit. Therefore, if he doesn’t recuse himself, he has a chance to keep Mueller in place. (Unless of course Rosenstein gets canned for not firing Mueller. After all, Rosenstein is how one says Ruckelshaus in yiddish.

    (None of this is to say that Rosenstein is honorable.)

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If the real Donald Trump were Dorian Gray, who could contemplate the real painting in the attic?

      • Rugger9 says:

        One wonders why Cohen would want to sue anyone with this out there to be found in a discovery motion.  I saw that too.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Trump’s lawyer(s) during the campaign apparently paid some 100 women to keep quiet about their time with the Don (business transactions, not “relationships”).  Busy beavers.

        • bmaz says:

          He did promise to use his own money in the campaign. Who knew that would be primarily as hush money for sexual assault victims?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I think those 100 or so women engaged in consensual transactions.  I suspect the Don pixie dusted away the ones that weren’t.

      • Trip says:

        In Trumpland, this is 0 on a scale of 1-10 for scandals. It’s basically not worth reporting if it only involved consensual transactions with adults, as earl said.  I don’t think Melania cares (may have even been grateful), and the Radical Christian Right doesn’t even view predatorial pedophilia as a problem.  But in my opinion, $130k is way too low of a payment to debase one’s self with Trump. That is one crappy job.

  13. bmaz says:

    People with more dollars than sense engage in stupid litigation relentlessly. Marcy thinks more highly of the respective “dossier civil litigations” than I do; for my part, I think it is garbage and not likely going far. And if you make it past Rule 12 motions and into discovery, as you guys were chatting about earlier, turns out that is a two way street you may not like driving on. But who knows.

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