As of the end of Monday, Rod Rosenstein appears to be lingering in a kind of political limbo. According to the AP, The White House has refused to provide even the usual token statement of “confidence” in the deputy attorney general. After a day of reporting that Rosenstein had resigned, or was refusing to resign but expecting to be fired, and after meetings and phone calls, and general moments of shock and concern … there now seems to be an upcoming meeting between Trump and Rosenstein on Thursday, at which the fate of the deputy AG, and quite likely the special counsel investigation, could be decided. And what hangs in the balance is even more than it seems.
It’s certainly not the first time that Rosenstein was under threat of being fired. Rosenstein has been called to the White House numerous times to defend his appointment of Robert Mueller or to explain his reluctance to hand over documents that could be damaging to the ongoing investigation. But this round has not only obviously brought the relationship between Trump and Rosenstein not only to a razor edge, it seems to have been a deliberate, directed effort meant to finish the job of belittling and sidelining the deputy AG at a critical juncture.
On September 21, the New York Times published an article stating that Rosenstein had offered to secretly record Donald Trump with an eye toward invoking provisions of the 25th Amendment. The article opens with a bang, confidently reporting on Rosenstein’s concern over the “chaos” in the White House and anger over “being used” in the firing of FBI director James Comey. It’s only after four paragraphs that it gets around to providing something that looks like sourcing for this information:
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.
Several people. Who were briefed, and only an unknown few of those briefed on memos. Which would certainly indicate that the Times is not claiming a single first-hand witness to this statement as a source for its claim that Rosenstein “discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
In fact, the Times here is not even claiming that any of its sources actually read the memos.
The Times story was immediately contradicted by other sources. The AP reported that the Department of Justice released an email from someone who was actually present at the meeting, and who stated that Rosenstein’s “statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president.”
MSNBC backed up this position from other sources in the DOJ who recounted the incident as an off the cuff quip from Rosenstein in response to then acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.
Rosenstein: Well, what do you want me to do, Andy, wear a wire?
In addition to Rosenstein and McCabe, there were five other DOJ officials present at the meeting. None of them were in the sources for the New York Times story. However, the Times did not retract or update its position, which presented the “wire” story not just as a flippant remark, but as an actual plan to secretly record Trump and use it as grounds for his removal.
None of Mr. Rosenstein’s proposals apparently came to fruition. It is not clear how determined he was about seeing them through, though he did tell Mr. McCabe that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.
None of the witnesses from that meeting have supported these contentions. According to some sources that have looked at McCabe’s notes, those notes include the phrase “raises 25th amendment.” But other notes from the meeting do not have that comment, suggesting that it might have been more McCabe pondering the import of any potential action than a suggestion from Rosenstein.
In short, the whole story of Rod Rosenstein offering to wear a wire, record Trump, and recruit cabinet members into an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment was not wholly fictional. Only 99 percent so.
Three days later, as the Times was issuing a podcast entitled “Rod Rosenstein’s insurrection,” Axios blew open the morning news by reporting that Rosenstein had “verbally resigned” to Chief of Staff John Kelly. This was cited as according to “a source close to Rosenstein.” In the next hour, as Rosenstein left the Department of Justice and went to a meeting at the White House, other outlets provided a different view. The alternate take was that Rosenstein had refused to resign, but was going to the White House with expectations that he would be fired.
Whatever the true state of events on Monday morning, on Tuesday Axios reported that there was an “exit statement” drafted by someone else at the DOJ, but written to sound as if it had come from Attorney General Jefferson Sessions. However, that statement supposedly does not have the word “resignation,” leaving the status of Rosenstein in perfect darkness.
Multiple sources—including Donald Trump—have made it clear for months that Trump wants to get rid of Rosenstein. The obvious reason is that ousting the deputy AG would allow Trump to put someone else in charge of the Mueller investigation. That someone else will almost certainly be Noel Francisco, an attorney who worked with Brett Kavanaugh in the Bush White House, was part of the effort to stop the Florida recount, and who authored an op-ed attacking the FBI for using “kid gloves” in handling Hillary Clinton.
But there’s even more at stake than Rosenstein’s role in maintaining the investigation. The deputy attorney general is himself a witness to events surrounding Comey’s firing and how Trump has addressed the whole Russia issue. Even if he’s no longer Robert Mueller’s boss, he’s absolutely of value as one of Mueller’s key witnesses.
Pushing the idea that Rosenstein was so upset over how Trump used his Comey memo in firing the FBI director that he considered a kind of coup-let devalues Rosenstein as a witness. It makes Rosenstein just another of those who, like Comey, McCabe, and FBI agent Peter Strzok, join the list of Trump “deep state” opponents open to savaging from Trump and his allies.
This is an effort to bag not just Rosenstein’s position, but Rosenstein. And to provide “evidence” that the whole investigation is … what’s that term again? A witch hunt.
Pushing out Rod Rosenstein isn’t just an effort to end the Mueller investigation. It’s an excuse to bury it.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.