No big deal: Rod Rosenstein accused of wanting to wear a wire to record Trump, discussing 25th Amendment with deputies; Update: Sarcasm?

It’s a good thing that stories based on anonymous sources in the failing New York Times can’t possibly be trusted or else the president would be pretty pissed about this deep-state insurrection, I would think.

As it is, I’m confident he and his fans will calmly dismiss it out of hand as fake news.

Here’s where I remind you that not only does Rosenstein work for Trump, Bob Mueller works for him. Rosenstein, not Mueller, is the head of the Russiagate probe. If you believe the Times, the man who’s nominally in charge of ascertaining whether there’s probable cause to believe the president conspired with Russia and obstructed justice was thinking about the “constitutional coup” option for removing him from office practically from the moment he joined the DOJ.

How can he continue as head of Russiagate, assuming he continues as deputy attorney general?

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…

Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes, 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.

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.

Read that middle paragraph again closely. Unless I’m misunderstanding, the Times has not a single direct witness to Rosenstein saying anything of this. What they have are people who were “briefed” that he said it or briefed that Andrew McCabe claimed that he said it in memos he wrote at the time. In fact, McCabe seems to be the main source for this story, whether directly or indirectly. The Times notes that it was at a meeting with McCabe and at least four other senior DOJ officials a week after Comey was fired that Rosenstein allegedly mentioned wearing a wire in meetings with Trump or recording him surreptitiously on his smart phone, fearing that POTUS was behaving erratically in how he conducted the search for Comey’s successor. (One source says Rosenstein was being sarcastic, others say nope, that Rosenstein even encouraged FBI officials to record Trump as well.) In fact, the Times’s sources claim, it was Rosenstein himself who was behaving erratically at the time, allegedly volunteering to write the memo blasting Comey’s performance during Emailgate *after* Trump told him he wanted to fire Comey, then getting upset that POTUS cited the memo afterward as grounds for firing him.

As noted in the excerpt, McCabe is also allegedly the person to whom Rosenstein mentioned the 25th Amendment. Somehow that allegation has now ended up in the Times. Hmmmm. I don’t know why McCabe would have it in for Rosenstein, unless he bears a grudge against him for his role in writing the memo that got Comey fired. But if so, why would that be coming out now, 16 months after the axe fell?

Theories are flying on social media about who’s trying to screw whom by leaking this story. Don Jr is playing it perfectly straight: He believes the article, failing New York Times and anonymous stories notwithstanding.

Same for Fox News primetime:

I’ve seen other theories from Trumpers that defend Rosenstein, though, kinda sorta. Some people think the story is bait planted by the sinister media cabal to try to tempt POTUS into firing Rosenstein before the midterms, hoping/expecting that the political backlash will wreck Trump and the GOP in November. Save the House and Senate — protect Rod Rosenstein! At least one Twitter pal speculated that there might be some type of quid pro quo behind the scenes happening between Trump and the Times’s sources. In exchange for POTUS backing off his order to declassify text messages sent by his Russiagate enemies, the theory goes, a source with dirt on Rosenstein’s treachery would come forward to the Times and give them the goods on him. (It’s worth noting that McCabe was one of the people whose texts Trump wanted to declassify.) Now the president has a reason to fire one of his foremost “deep state” enemies and to discredit the Russiagate probe in the process. If the axe doesn’t fall on Rosenstein soon, Trump can drop it later, after the midterms. He now has a solid reason to do so.

Rosenstein denies the story, of course, but conveniently doesn’t say which parts specifically are false:

He also provided the Times with statement insisting that “there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.” Bear in mind that the AP reported six months ago that McCabe’s memos are now in Mueller’s possession. If that’s true then Mueller has had evidence for half a year that his own boss was seeking to participate in the investigation as a witness by gathering evidence on Trump firsthand or angling to remove the president from office by approaching cabinet members about removing the president as unfit. Has Mueller concluded that McCabe’s memos are untrustworthy? If not, has he approached Rosenstein about recusing himself, knowing how badly this will damage perceptions of the integrity of the investigation? Is Mueller planning to cite the memos as credible evidence of Trump’s behavior in his final report, and if so, what excuse will Rosenstein give for why he didn’t recuse himself?

Is he going to claim that his own special counsel erred in finding the memos credible? Hoo boy.

Oh, just to make the politics of this sh*tshow even more confusing, the Wall Street Journal reported last month that Trump and Rosenstein are sort of buds now:

The two men talk once or twice a week, and Mr. Trump calls Mr. Rosenstein on his cellphone to discuss such issues as immigration, according to one person familiar with the matter. Mr. Rosenstein consistently prepares the president’s team ahead of major news, officials said. And he visits the White House as often as three times a week, meeting with the president or White House chief of staff John Kelly. He also has a regular lunch with White House general counsel Don McGahn.

“It’s fantastic,” Mr. Trump said about his rapport with Mr. Rosenstein when a spokesman told him The Wall Street Journal was seeking a comment. “We have a great relationship. Make sure you tell them that.”

On the other hand, maybe they’re not as buddy-buddy as they sounded:

Exit question: Is Rosenstein the mystery author of the infamous anonymous New York Times op-ed from a few weeks ago? All of the themes of today’s news story were present in that piece. Trump is erratic and unfit, responsible people in the administration are working to hold him in check, the 25th Amendment has been quietly broached. Today’s news story even mentions the op-ed without alleging that anyone wrote it. I wonder if the news division has reason to believe that Rosenstein is the author but can’t quite nail it down and decided to publish this instead, essentially presenting evidence of similarity between him and the author without making any forthright accusation.

Update: Nervous Rosenstein allies are pushing back, insisting that it was all … a joke?

“I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment. The statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president,” the person said.

A former Justice Department official added: “Knowing Rod, the two big pieces of that story just don’t add up.” The former official said Rosenstein would’ve recognized the math of invoking the 25th Amendment — requiring a majority of the cabinet, the vice president and majorities in Congress — would’ve been virtually impossible.

The last point is a fair one. Rosenstein would need to be stupid to the point of recklessness to quietly float a 25th Amendment gambit that had no chance of succeeding. Even his critics don’t call him stupid.

Update: The exact quote from Rosenstein about recording Trump, according to WaPo, was “What do you want to do, Andy, wire the president?” Which does sound a lot like sarcasm — and suggests that McCabe, not Rosenstein, was the one thinking of underhanded tactics to gather evidence on Trump. There’s also this: “Another official at the meeting, then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, wrote her own memo of the discussion which does not mention any talk of the 25th amendment, according to a second person who was familiar with her account.” If all we have on the 25th Amendment comment is McCabe’s word that it happened, how much is that worth?

Update: Don’t look at us, says the spokesman for Team McCabe:

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