Good to know there’ll be something to blog about on Thursday, when he’s scheduled with meet with Trump. It was shaping up to be a slow news day.
So dense is the intrigue between the White House and the DOJ at this point that I can’t even puzzle out a theory for who instigated this morning’s drama and why. Did Trump or John Kelly let it be known somehow to Rosenstein that the axe was about to fall, triggering his resignation threat? If so, uh, why’d they do that? Or did Rosenstein blindside Trump and Kelly by suddenly threatening to resign, an inexplicable development from the guardian of the Russiagate probe? Could there be a malevolent third party involved seeking conflict between Trump and Rosenstein who planted a rumor that Trump was about to fire him?
You want to know how impenetrably thick the thicket of suspicion is here? On Friday, two of the three pillars of primetime on Trump’s favorite cable news network were calling for completely contradictory action on Rosenstein. Fire him, demanded Laura Ingraham in a (now-deleted) tweet. Under no circumstances should you fire him, said “shadow chief of staff” Sean Hannity on his show that night. Even MAGA Nation doesn’t know what the hell to do with the politics of a Rosenstein departure.
“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington, D.C.”…
On Monday morning, White House officials said Rosenstein had offered to resign to quell the controversy, while Justice Department officials said he had no intention of resigning but was heading to the White House with the expectation he would be fired.
After Rosenstein met with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, he proceeded to a meeting of senior administration officials, indicating that at least for the moment, he was staying on the job.
WaPo claims that “private discussions” about Rosenstein’s departure were happening all weekend, seemingly within both camps. Rosenstein himself allegedly told people that he “felt very compromised” by the NYT’s bombshell on Friday about him allegedly offering to wear a wire when meeting with Trump and chatting to Andrew McCabe about the 25th Amendment. (Other reports plausibly claimed that Rosenstein was being sarcastic when he mentioned wearing a wire.) The story did compromise him. How can he continue as head of the Russiagate investigation if much of the country now views him per the NYT’s reporting as either highly partial against Trump or as an actual potential witness to possible obstruction of justice in firing Comey?
And why now? The strangest thing about the Times story was that Rosenstein’s alleged comments weren’t made recently. They date to his first months in office, to the aftermath of Comey’s termination. It’s curious that both of Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, were quick to pounce on the news this morning about Rosenstein’s resignation as a reason for Mueller to slow down and maybe “take a step back” from the investigation. That’s been the opposite of their message all year: Hurry up, the country can’t bear this forever. Was it Team Trump or an ally that leaked the Rosenstein stuff to the Times on Friday, hoping it would trigger a departure that would throw a roadblock in Mueller’s path? It’s hard to believe that given Hannity’s posture; if POTUS had concluded that forcing Rosenstein out was the way to go, his most loyal media ally would have been on message.
There’s another possibility. This would be Trump-y even for Trump:
Gabe Sherman reports that the Rosenstein leak appears to have been a "smoke bomb" to knock Kavanaugh out of the news. “The strategy was to try and do something really big,” said a source familiar with Trump's thinking. https://t.co/wWRGXJZBHA
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) September 24, 2018
A guy who’s spent his adult life manipulating tabloid news outlets probably would be thinking in terms of playing the Rosenstein and Kavanaugh stories off each other. Both are bad for the White House. If Rosenstein quits or is fired, there’s chaos at the DOJ and the Russiagate probe would suddenly be decapitated. Democrats will start beating impeachment drums again, particularly if Trump axes Rosenstein instead of convincing him to “quit.” Meanwhile, the Kavanaugh news is all shades of bad, even with the latest accusation against the nominee obviously dubious. Another accuser could come forward at any moment; Michael Avenatti is promising one, in fact. What do you do if you’re a beleaguered president saddled with two problems like that? Most people would say “take them one at a time” — no movement on Rosenstein until the Kavanaugh matter is settled, at least.
But Trump, understanding the public’s attention span, might prefer to handle them simultaneously. Even if each turns into a crisis, the two crises will compete for media attention and there are only so many hours in the day. Which is why it’s probably no coincidence that Rosenstein’s meeting with Trump is now scheduled for Thursday, the very day of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee. What does the media do if news breaks during Ford’s hearing that Rosenstein has been canned? Which story takes precedence?
Trump being Trump, I think he’d prioritize a matter that bears directly on him over one that doesn’t. If either crisis here is being treated as cover for the other, I’d guess that he’s using the Kavanaugh fiasco as cover to move against Rosenstein, not vice versa. He’s going to liquidate one of his archenemies while America is consumed with Kavanaugh, Ford, and #MeToo, expecting that there’ll be less of an outcry. If that theory is correct, though, then we really should expect Rosenstein to be canned on Thursday (or to “resign”). If he isn’t, then Sherman’s theory suddenly becomes more plausible: Maybe POTUS somehow orchestrated this Rosenstein saga lately with no intention of firing the deputy AG. It’s just a big shiny object to try to deflect media heat from Kavanaugh, with the number two at the DOJ and the Russiagate inquiry treated as props in the staging. I wouldn’t put it past him.
I think Rosenstein probably won’t be fired or quit on Thursday, that his meeting with Trump will turn into an opportunity to “clear the air” or whatever after the Times piece. As much as Trump might savor a golden opportunity to liquidate him, he knows Ryan and McConnell will have an aneurysm if he does so since then they’ll be stuck with clean-up. And he also surely understands that while Rosenstein might distract from Kavanaugh and vice versa, the media will devote plenty of coverage to both under a single theme: “Presidency in Crisis.” If the hearing goes badly for Kavanaugh and the deputy AG is suddenly fired, we’ll spend every day until the midterms hearing about how the Trump administration has gone off the rails. Or, as the Onion put it:
— The Onion (@TheOnion) September 24, 2018
Via the Free Beacon, here’s CNN having no more luck than anyone else today figuring out what the hell is happening with Trump and Rosenstein.