In early May 2017, Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, a decision that was motivated, according to the president, by his concerns about the investigation into the Russia scandal. In an NBC News interview soon after, Trump described Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as “highly respected,” a “very good guy,” and a “very smart guy.”
Evidently, the feeling was not mutual. The New York Times reports today on what Rosenstein was apparently up to around this time.
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.
Mr. Rosenstein made these suggestions in the spring of 2017 when Mr. Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director plunged the White House into turmoil. Over the ensuing days, the president divulged classified intelligence to Russians in the Oval Office, and revelations emerged that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey to pledge loyalty and end an investigation into a senior aide.
To put it mildly, this is a rather extraordinary report, documenting behind-the-scenes discussions Rosenstein reportedly had with federal law enforcement officials. The Times’ reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, appears to be based in part on contemporaneous memos prepared by Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director at the time, whom Trump later helped oust from his post. [Update: NBC News now has a competing account, which includes Rosenstein “joking when he discussed wearing a wire.”]
Rosenstein issued a statement denying the accuracy of the 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.”
According to the Times’ report, however, that may not reflect how Rosenstein felt last year – when he reportedly discussed the possibility of a 25th Amendment remedy, telling McCabe he thought Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly might be persuadable on the subject.
The article added that Rosenstein, eager to acquire proof of the chaos overcoming the White House, suggested that Comey’s would-be replacements could surreptitiously record the president during their interviews.
To fully appreciate the details, you’ll have to read the full article – I’m just excerpting a small part of a larger piece – but it’s important to recognize the kind of impact an article like this can have.
For example, Donald Trump might hear about it and decide it’s time to fire Rod Rosenstein. If so, that would be a profoundly consequential decision since the deputy A.G. is currently responsible for overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal – Rosenstein is, for all intents and purposes, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s superior in this process – which means the president may try to target an apparent intra-administration critic and undermine the Mueller probe at the same time.
Watch this space.