Another leak: Trump asked Rod Rosenstein if he’s “on my team”
This leak war will be the best leak war, believe me. Really tremendous.
You might think POTUS would have stopped pressing DOJ leaders for their loyalty after his attempt to do that at dinner with James Comey last January blew up in his face. At this very moment Bob Mueller may be compiling his alleged demands for loyalty from Comey, Andrew McCabe, Jeff Sessions, and now Rod Rosenstein as evidence of the president’s intent to obstruct justice, since, after all, what sort of “loyalty” could he be asking for if not loyalty in protecting him from the Russiagate investigation?
I think Trump is honestly mystified as to why this is inappropriate, though. And so is a lot of the public.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December seeking President Donald Trump’s help. The top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation wanted Trump’s support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.
But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel’s Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was “on my team.”…
“Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” Rosenstein told Trump, the sources said. It is not clear what Trump meant or how Rosenstein interpreted the comment.
First let’s pause to have a laugh at Rosenstein’s expense, that he thought Trump might help him out by getting Devin Nunes off his back. Does this guy not read the president’s tweets or watch Fox News primetime occasionally? Nunes has been Trump’s point man on discrediting the “deep state” for months. Where Sessions and Comey and Rosenstein himself failed to protect the president from Russiagate, Nunes has gone all in to try to turn the tables and put the DOJ on the defensive with his memo. Trump must love him to death for performing a role which, he thought, Sessions would be playing for him. I’ll be shocked if Nunes isn’t rewarded with a cabinet post for it, assuming he can get through the Senate. The irony of Trump’s “on my team” comment is that they’re not all on the same team; certainly Rosenstein and Nunes are on different teams now, if they were ever on the same team to start with. Guess which one Trump is on.
In fact, if CNN is right, Trump actually tried feeding questions to friendly Republican congressmen to use in grilling Rosenstein when he appeared on the Hill to testify in December. Quote: “One line of inquiry Trump proposed lawmakers ask about was whether Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election because Mueller was not selected as FBI director.” Trump, it seems, thought Rosenstein was a Mueller crony and was annoyed when Chris Wray got the FBI job instead of his pal Mueller. Why he thought that, I have no idea. But imagine a president whispering lines of inquiry to another branch to try to publicly impeach his own handpicked deputy AG. Again, whose team do you think Trump is on, Rod? Yours or Nunes’s?
As I say, though, I don’t think Trump understands why it’s wrong to ask the deputy AG to be a team player and I don’t think many Americans do either, including Democrats. They’ll harrumph about DOJ independence when reading this story but if Obama had demanded “loyalty” from Eric Holder (as if he ever had to explicitly demand it!), they’d make the same arguments that righties will make in Trump’s defense now. The president’s the head of the executive branch, is he not? Does the deputy AG not work for him? Does the deputy AG not have a duty to report major developments to the president, very much including a momentous investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign? *If* it’s true, as Nunes implies, that there are rogue actors within the DOJ or the FBI who have a political vendetta against the president, isn’t it perfectly reasonable to expect that the deputy AG would be on the president’s “team” rather than the one that’s trying to unseat a duly elected chief executive?
Well, then, what’s the problem? Trump in particular, I think, views these relationships through the basic frame of boss and employee, which stands to reason. He spent his career in the private sector, where that frame universally applies, and his interest in the special norms that restrict what government can do in certain cases appears, ah, spotty. A boss has every right to expect loyalty from his subordinates in running his organization, as the employee’s duty is to the business. A *prosecutor’s* first duty, however, isn’t to “the business,” it’s to the law in the service of justice. That’s particularly true when the president’s own deputies are being investigated; loyalty to the boss in that case might mean subversion of the law, which I’m sure is what Mueller’s looking at right now. But if you understand the superior/subordinate relationships in the executive branch as no different from what they are at a business — and like I say, POTUS isn’t alone in doing so — then yeah, it would probably seem bizarre to him *not* to press Rosenstein or Comey or McCabe to be a team player. It’s his prerogative. He’s the farking boss!
I still can’t get over the idea that Rosenstein thought Trump might side with him against Nunes. Here’s something for him to chew on from WaPo, in case it wasn’t already achingly apparent: “According to a person familiar with his comments, the president has told advisers the memo might make people realize how the FBI and Mueller are biased against him, and that could give him reason to force Rosenstein out.” If there’s anyone who’s squarely in Trump’s and Nunes’s crosshairs, it’s Rosenstein himself — never mind that he didn’t join the DOJ until long after the original FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page had been granted. (He did approve its renewal, though!) Rosenstein’s the man who jumpstarted Russiagate by appointing Mueller, and for that he must pay. Exit question: Who leaked this? A meeting between the president and the deputy AG is high-level. Did Rosenstein tell a confidante at the DOJ what happened afterward and now that confidante is whispering to CNN?