Axios reported Monday morning that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “has verbally offered to resign to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to a source close to Rosenstein, but as of now, it’s unclear whether his resignation has been accepted.”
Well, that set off a cable news frenzy, so I hear. Headlines blared that Rosenstein had been summoned to the White House where he ws expected to resign or be fired. Rosenstein was filmed arriving and departing the White House.
It now appears that all the excitement was a bit premature: Rosenstein will meet with Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss his future at DOJ.
This all has to do with a New York Times report from Friday, citing sources who were not participants in the room at the time of the conversations reported. Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment:
The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.
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Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes in interviews over the past several months, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.
The Washington Post, which cites participants who were in the room for the conversations says the remark was sarcastic. NBC News also had a competing account, which includes Rosenstein “joking when he discussed wearing a wire.”
Other than the memos written by Andrew McCabe, who was fired earlier this year and who is reportedly writing a tell-all book, who was the source for the Times? Who knows. But it is pretty clear that the Times, which Trump almost daily describes as “the failing New York Times, Fake News!,” in this instance is providing the pretext for Trump to fire Rosenstein, something he has long desired to do.
Rosenstein clearly has enemies at the Department of Justice with an agenda to get him fired by Trump, or to precipitate his firing to start the firestorm that will follow his firing by Trump. And for all we know, the White House is behind this somehow.
Personally, I find the Times reporting suspect. Rosenstein is a career employee of the DOJ with a reputation for being by the book. There are DOJ guidelines for obtaining a court order to wear a wire, and I find it unbelievable that Rosenstein would seriously suggest surreptitiously wearing a wire without a court order, to record the president of the United States no less. His comment was clearly made in jest as sarcasm. Why the Times reporters suggest he was serious is a question they need to answer.
The 25th Amendment discussion also seems to be far-fetched. This appears to be an attempt to connect Rosenstein to the “Anonymous” op-ed in the Times a couple of weeks ago. Removal would take a majority of the cabinet and vice president, and a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. That’s a non-starter in this Congress, so it’s hard to take serious.
Rosenstein issued a pair of statements denying the accuracy of the Times article, which he described as being based on “anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda.” He added that based on his dealings with the president, “there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
So, Thursday. Steve Benen writes, It’s not too late for Congress to protect Mueller from Trump:
[T]the reason for this morning’s tumult couldn’t be more obvious: Rosenstein is, for all intents and purposes, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s superior in the investigation into the Russia scandal. Rosenstein’s ouster would put the entire federal probe in jeopardy.
All of which renews interest in a familiar question: maybe Congress can take steps to protect Mueller? NBC News reported today:
As conflicting reports emerged concerning the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, Democrats sounded the alarm about what his potential departure from the Department of Justice could mean for the Russia probe.
“Saturday Night Massacres don’t need to happen on a Saturday,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Twitter. “If President Trump fires DAG Rod Rosenstein or forces his resignation, he will come one giant leap closer to directly meddling with the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation.” […]
Leahy and other legislators on Monday called for the passage of bipartisan legislation designed to protect the special counsel’s investigation. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for a vote to occur immediately. “We can no longer afford to wait,” she wrote in a tweet.
A wide variety of House Democrats pushed a similar line.
It was five months ago when the Senate Judiciary Committee easily approved a bipartisan bill to protect Muller from White House interference. Soon after, Republican leaders ignored the proposal as if it didn’t exist.
The typical response from GOP officials is that legislative protections for the special counsel are wholly unnecessary since there’s so little chance of Trump taking steps to interfere with Mueller’s probe.
Something Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in April continues to ring true: “Rather than waiting for a constitutional crisis, the full Senate should act now.”
It’s an important point. Republican leaders don’t deny that it’d be a crisis for our legal system if Trump took aggressive steps to interfere with the Mueller probe, but they’ve convinced themselves that the president is unlikely to act, so legislative protections are unwarranted.
This morning’s drama – and the looming White House meeting on Thursday – served as a reminder that the volatility level surrounding the Trump presidency remains alarmingly high. There’s plenty of time for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to do the right thing. It’s simply a matter of political will, which Republican leaders currently appear to lack.
They are gutless wonders who place party loyalty over loyalty to country and the rule of law. It is time for Congress to act to protect the Special Counsel investigation from interference and obstruction of justice by the chief suspect and target of the probe, Donald Trump. That is a clear conflict of interest, and undermines the rule of law.