As plot twists go, put this one right up with Keyser Soze. Ever since Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to handle the Russia-collusion probe, most observers wondered when — not if — Donald Trump would fire his deputy AG. Conservatives in the House have agitated to impeach Rosenstein for blocking access to key documents in the investigation, with at least some intent of boosting Trump’s war cries of “witch hunt” and “hoax.”
Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, Trump and Rosenstein have suddenly become … well, if not buddies, at least allies:
As the Russia investigation unfolds and some House Republicans mount an effort to impeach him, Mr. Rosenstein has steadily developed a stable relationship with the president that suggests he has more staying power than either his supporters or detractors suspect.
Mr. Rosenstein in the past has been a frequent target of the president’s ire as part of his disdain for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling, which Mr. Rosenstein oversees. Mr. Trump in April had to be warned by aides against firing him. Mr. Rosenstein also personally approved raids on the home, office and hotel room of Mr. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen.
But in recent months, their relationship has improved. 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 great relationship. Make sure you tell them that.”
Trump has a “fantastic” relationship with the man enabling, if not leading, the “witch hunt”? It’s as if Giles Corey opened a business with John Hathorne! (Look it up.) The relationship works so well that the White House has sided with Rosenstein in his fight with the House Freedom Caucus over the documents.
Not only do they get along, the WSJ’s Michael Bender and Sadie Gurman further report that Trump’s now doing most of his DoJ business with Rosenstein, bypassing Jeff Sessions entirely because of Trump’s “disenchantment” with his Attorney General. That probably suits Sessions fine, but it’s tough to see why Trump would remain disenchanted with Sessions outside of the existence of the Mueller probe. Sessions recused himself, leading to Mueller’s appointment, but it was Rosenstein who made the decision to appoint a special counsel in the first place, and it’s Rosenstein who keeps him employed. One source for Bender and Gurman explains that Trump’s anger at Sessions is simply smoldering resentment over the recusal, and nothing more, but again, the special-counsel decision was Rosenstein’s.
Those are some next-level plot twists, without a doubt.
It’s tough to read this without thinking that the calmer waters might indicate that the Mueller probe isn’t going anywhere, and both Rosenstein and Trump know it. Everyone has assumed that Trump wants to can Mueller before he gets a chance to file his report, but if so, he’d have to go through Rosenstein to do it. If the WSJ report is accurate, that tension has faded remarkably, which hardly seems likely if Mueller still represented a major threat to Trump.
On the other hand, the season’s not over yet. There’s still plenty of room for more plot twists. Stay tuned.