Rosenstein’s only in charge of the Russiagate probe because his own boss, Jeff Sessions, had to recuse himself several months ago. If Rosenstein steps back, the new third-in-command at the DOJ, Rachel Brand, will take charge. If Brand eventually has to recuse, Dana Boente steps in. By summer 2018 Bob Mueller might be reporting to a Justice Department intern.
Maybe Rosenstein won’t recuse himself, though. Maybe he’ll just resign. Who could blame him after this?
“The man who told me to fire the FBI Director” is a reference to Rosenstein, whom the White House initially named as the prime mover behind Comey’s firing only to have Trump admit later on TV that he was planning to fire Comey no matter what Rosenstein had to say. Now we’re back to “blame Rosenstein.” Why would Rosenstein want to continue working for a boss who not only tried to scapegoat him for a poor decision but who’s now publicly accusing him of conducting a “witch hunt”?
He’s still at the DOJ, for now. But maybe not at the head of the Russiagate investigation for much longer:
The senior Justice Department official with ultimate authority over the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election has privately acknowledged to colleagues that he may have to recuse himself from the matter, which he took charge of only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own recusal, sources tell ABC News.
Those private remarks from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are significant because they reflect the widening nature of the federal probe, which now includes a preliminary inquiry into whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice when he allegedly tried to curtail the probe and then fired James Comey as FBI director…
Rosenstein is keenly aware that he could become a potential witness in the investigation.
If Trump firing Comey was obstruction of justice, Rosenstein is a key witness since he and Jeff Sessions were Trump’s main advisors on that decision. No doubt he’s trying to hold off on recusal as long as he can, partly to preserve his own power over the investigation and partly to maintain some stability in the chain of command. That makes me wonder if the unusual statement he released last night, warning Americans “to exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,'” is part of his calculus here. That statement seemed aimed at the WaPo story a few days ago that claimed, according to “officials,” that Mueller is now investigating Trump for obstruction. Rosenstein may have thought that by casting doubt on whether Trump really is being investigated, he’d reduce public pressure on him to recuse himself as a possible witness to obstruction.
Or maybe there’s a different explanation for the statement. Maybe the White House leaned on Rosenstein to say something publicly (just as Trump had leaned on Comey) to the effect that Trump still isn’t under investigation for collusion and Rosenstein decided to appease them by issuing the vague “don’t believe everything you read” press release. If so, his reward this morning was being attacked by the president on Twitter. Plenty of room under the Trump bus for the deputy AG, even with all those Republican congressmen who voted for Ryan’s health-care bill under there too.
Dianne Feinstein put out her own statement this morning warning that another “Saturday night massacre” is brewing:
Strong statement from Sen Feinstein pic.twitter.com/eaOSrQVA68
— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) June 16, 2017
That would be pure nuttery insofar as it would dog Trump for the rest of his presidency and almost certainly ensure that Democrats impeach him if they retake the House in 2018, but he may not be able to help himself. This Politico piece claims that people inside and outside the administration, some of whom speak directly with Trump, fear that he’s an obsessive personality whose new obsession is the Russiagate probe and that he’s apt to act rashly because of it. “It’s basically all he talks about on the phone,” said one. “He is totally in a box now. And it might make him want to fire Mueller more,” said another. Given how irate he was at Sessions for recusing himself, Rosenstein’s recusal might send him over the edge. I wonder if he’d trust Brand to take charge of the investigation at that point or if he’d try to replace Rosenstein as deputy AG with a crony who’d shut down Mueller’s probe at Trump’s request. That would be gut-check time for Senate Republicans: Would they confirm a Trump ally who wouldn’t guarantee them that he’d let Mueller finish his work?
In lieu of an exit question, read this insightful Byron York piece on how Trump has made his life much harder than it needed to be in how he’s handled all of this. (The segment on Mueller’s lawyers being far superior to Trump’s is interesting too.) Exit quotation: “In the end, it could be that the president’s impatience to get rid of Comey in order to shorten an investigation that he believed to be going nowhere resulted in a new investigation that could last the rest of Trump’s time in office.”
Update: Okay, let’s do an exit question too. Question: How desperate are Trump’s lawyers right now to walk back the apparent admission in his tweet above that he really is under investigation for obstruction?
a source close to POTUS legal team says he was NOT confirming that he is under investigation, but referring to WaPo story https://t.co/lQBQnawTrc
— Brooke Singman (@BrookeSingman) June 16, 2017