The White House is in chaos — even by its “normal” standard — amid stories on Monday that Donald Trump will fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
On Monday morning, US media widely reported that Rosenstein, who oversees the Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, had been summoned to the White House to be dismissed. The Justice Department was preparing a statement naming his replacement.
But by the afternoon, Rosenstein — apparently after attending a White House meeting — was back at his office and still in his post.
In New York at the UN General Assembly, Trump added to the confusion: “We’ll be determining what’s going on. We’re going to have a meeting on Thursday when I get back.”
Who’s In Charge?
Trump has long sought to undermine Rosenstein, hoping to find a more compliant Deputy Attorney General to curb the Russia inquiry. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself because of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign. He has refused to reverse his decision, despite Trump’s insults of him.)
Tension escalated last Friday with a New York Times story, from multiple sources, that Rosenstein had sought to recruit Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump as unfit. He also reportedly advised officials to wear a wire when they met Trump, protecting themselves by recording conversations.
Rosenstein denied the claims, but the sources stood by the story. The incident occurred in May 2017, with the Deputy Attorney General only two weeks in office, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey to undermine the Russia investigation — and bragged to Russian Foreign Sergey Lavrov that he had gotten rid of the “crazy…nut job”.
Claims circulated yesterday that Rosenstein had tried to “verbally resign” in a conversation on Friday night with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Sources said he repeated the statement to Kelly and White House lawyer Don McGahn over the weekend.
McGahn — who is dealing with the embattled nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice — asked Rosenstein to postpone their discussion until Monday. But by Monday morning, reporters were calling the Deputy Attorney General to ask if he was leaving, prompting Justice Department officials to believe that the White House was looking for a quick conclusion.
Rosenstein and his top deputy went to the White House for the dismissal, but after an “extended conversation” with Trump by phone, he retained his position.
“One person who had discussed Rosenstein with Trump” said he wanted to purge the Justice Department but not until after November’s mid-term Congressional elections. The sudden drama around Rosenstein’s departure was an unwanted problem.
Multiple sources, including Republican legislators, have said that Trump also plans to remove Attorney General Sessions soon after November’s vote.