On Friday, September 20, 2018, the New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he wanted to record conversations with Donald Trump in 2017. He also discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. He also talked about wearing a wire to catch him on tape. Though Rosenstein denied the report, one source told the Times he was being sarcastic. Eventually neither was carried out. The Times report was primarily based on anonymous source accounts and contemporaneous Andrew McCabe memo descriptions.
On Monday, September 24, 2018, news came that Rod Rosenstein’s position as deputy attorney general is now facing an uncertain future. Initial reports said he resigned or got fired, which was later debunked. As of now, it’s expected that Rosenstein will meet with Donald Trump to discuss his future with the Department of Justice. But the deputy attorney general expects to be fired. At any rate, the deputy attorney general’s possible departure is significant. Due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe over lying to Congress about his Russian contacts, Rosenstein was responsible for overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
- According to court testimony, Mueller’s team has admitted to informing Rosenstein of all major decisions in advance, and that he’d have authority to overrule them.
- Rosenstein approved Mueller’s assembly of an all-star team that totaled 17 prosecutors at its height.
- In August 2017, Rosenstein wrote a memo to Mueller listing many people and topics he was authorized to investigate. The publicly released version is heavily redacted.
- Rosenstein held press conferences announcing Mueller’s 2 major indictments of Russians for election interference like the February social media indictment and the July email hacking indictment.
- Rosenstein was also reportedly involved in Mueller’s decision to refer an investigation into Michael Cohen to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, resulting in Cohen’s guilty plea to tax, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations in August.
Furthermore, Rosenstein has helped to preemptively protect Mueller from firing by testifying that regulation under which he appointed the special counsel gives him to send him on his way. So it’s clear that a Trump order to fire Mueller would be legally dubious.
For over a year, Rod Rosenstein has had to walk a delicate tightrope. On one hand, he was committed to protecting the investigation from conservatives inside and outside Congress who believed it biased against Donald Trump and urged him to fire the special counsel. Yet, Rosenstein couldn’t champion the investigation too much or else he’d draw Trump’s ire. In other words, he had to keep both sides happy as they constantly went at each other’s throats. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing in December 2017 over the Strzok-Page exchanges, Rosenstein defended the texts’ release to satisfy the anti-Mueller Republicans, saying “We consulted with the inspector general to determine that he had no objection to releasing the material. If he had, we would not have released it.” Yet, Rosenstein also defended Mueller when asked whether he’d fire him. He replied, “If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not. It would’ve been difficult to find anyone more qualified for this job.” Yet, keeping both sides happy allowed Rosenstein to claim support for his staff while also backing Donald Trump. It’s not a glamorous job but if he’s gone many fear Rosenstein might be replaced with a Trump crony who’d rein in the probe or even shut it down completely.
The current deputy attorney general’s potential departure strikes at the Trump-Russia investigation’s heart. Because Mueller had to run major investigative decisions past him. Rosenstein’s temporary replacement, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could simply refuse to approve Mueller’s requests, effectively slowing the investigation to a crawl. Or he could fire Mueller outright if he felt there was a reason to do so. Rod Rosenstein refused to do that. Instead, he allowed Mueller’s probe to proceed unimpeded while Mueller indicted top Trump campaign officials. The Mueller probe’s future and perhaps even that of Trump’s presidency once depended on how well Rosenstein performed this delicate balancing act.
Those who worked for him have long characterized Rod Rosenstein as an apolitical straight shooter who doesn’t put up with bullshit and always tries to be fair. Appointed as a US attorney for Maryland by President George W. Bush in 2005 and kept on by President Barack Obama, he joined the Trump administration with broad bipartisan support at his confirmation. Sure, he and Jeff Sessions wrote a letter calling of the firing of FBI Director James Comey for his actions against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. However, it turns out that Rosenstein isn’t a man without bias. Since his bias tends to be for the rule of law and country over party or anyone in the White House. But he made up for it by hiring Robert Mueller as special counsel, and authorizing him to look into possible Trump-Russia ties as well as “any matters that arose or may arise from the investigation.” He didn’t stop Mueller from pursuing the investigation the way he saw fit. And he made every indication that he intended to keep letting Mueller proceed with his probe.
Nonetheless, Donald Trump has publicly and privately raged about the Russia probe and his Justice Department for months. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have been his ire’s frequent targets. Trump has repeatedly complained that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt,” that “flipping” witnesses (like Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort) should be illegal, and that the Justice Department isn’t doing enough to investigate Democrats like Hillary Clinton and isn’t personally loyal to him. As a result, Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress and in conservative media have joined him in this effort as well, training criticism on Sessions and Rosenstein. Hardline House conservatives have even threatened to force a vote on Rosenstein’s impeachment based on paper thin pretexts before eventually backing down. So the fear of Trump firing Rosenstein and replacing him with a kiss-ass crony that could either slow down the Mueller probe or shut it down entirely is well-justified.
But if Rod Rosenstein is fired or resigns, Solicitor General Noel Francisco can change all that, especially if Donald Trump throws enough Twitter tantrums to give significant pressure. Firing Robert Mueller may not completely undermine the investigation. Since 5 Trump associates have pleaded guilty and prosecutors are likely to follow leads from the investigation’s beginning in June 2016. The future is still unclear. But if Francisco doesn’t do Trump’s bidding, Trump could fire him, which can be more detrimental to Mueller’s probe and be in the making of a Saturday night massacre. A new deputy attorney general could effectively cripple the Mueller probe by rejecting his requests to investigate more people, get new evidence, or pursue more charges against more people of interests. In effect, Rosenstein’s potential ouster puts Mueller’s investigation in its most precarious position to date, possibly allowing Donald Trump, his family, and associates to escape further scrutiny. And considering the horrible stuff Trump and his swamp cronies have done, our country can’t face this.