Do we agree that today is officially lit? If true, this scoop by Axios’ Jonathan Swan will measure a 9.5 on the Kavanaugh scale.
Buckle up your seatbelts — it’s gonna be a bumpy ride to the midterms:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has verbally resigned to Chief of Staff John Kelly in anticipation of being fired by President Trump, according to a source with direct knowledge.
Per a source close to Rosenstein: “He’s expecting to be fired,” so plans to step down.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins confirms Swan’s scoop, but that’s not the end of it. MSNBC now reports that Rosenstein will have to be dragged from his office, or something:
MSNBC reporting Rosenstein will NOT resign, says he'll have to be fired
— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) September 24, 2018
NBC’s Pete Williams, normally pretty well connected, hears the same thing:
NEW: @PeteWilliamsNBC reports that Rosenstein has said if Trump wants him gone, they'll have to fire him, and that Rosenstein will refuse to resign and go quietly.
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) September 24, 2018
The Washington Post hears it the other way:
Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein has told White House officials he is willing to resign in the wake of revelations he once suggested secretly recording the president, but it’s unclear if the resignation has been accepted, according to people familiar with the matter.
One Justice Department official said Rosenstein is preparing to be fired.
Isn’t this a distinction without a difference? If he’s expecting to be fired anyway, why not just go out under your own steam? Well, that’s where the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 comes into play. If an “officer of an Executive Agency” that got confirmed by the Senate “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office,” then the president can temporarily appoint another Senate-confirmed executive officer to fill the role for 210 days. If Trump fires Rosenstein, however, that path is out, which means that Trump can’t just find someone who pledges to axe Robert Mueller and stick him in Rosenstein’s spot.
But how big of an issue is this really? Thanks to the recusal by Jeff Sessions that has publicly poisoned his relationship with Trump, Rosenstein runs the special-counsel probe conducted by Robert Mueller into the Russia-collusion hypothesis. If Rosenstein resigns, that puts Solicitor General Noel Francisco in Rosenstein’s place, at least temporarily, while Trump decides on a new deputy AG and the Senate goes through a confirmation process. Francisco, also a Trump appointee, might well have a different take on what Mueller’s been doing and a friendlier attitude to Trump in regard to the report that Mueller will inevitably produce from his investigation. He would take that position without recourse to the FVRA. Francisco may (or may not) be as sympathetic to Trump as anyone would be who could credibly fill the role through the FVRA.
Either way, it’s that change that will set the political world on fire, especially on Capitol Hill. Rosenstein was seen as a bulwark against Trump’s worst instincts, even after their relationship appeared to improve in recent months. If Trump fires Rosenstein, especially ahead of firing Sessions, some of Trump’s Republican cover might start backing away. If that results in terminating Mueller or ordering him to conclude the investigation immediately, expect impeachment talk to gain a lot more momentum. And if Rosenstein decides to discuss all this in public and get into a war with Trump, the midterms may well turn into a disaster for the GOP, even in the Senate, which under normal circumstances they would hold.
However, we may all be getting ahead of ourselves here, too, and we should consider two more points to consider in any analysis. First, “verbally resigned” sounds pretty unofficial. Rosenstein is the deputy Attorney General of the United States, not a midlevel manager at some security firm. Even those folks (including myself way back in the day) usually put it in writing to make it official. Second, there isn’t any word on whether this actually reached Donald Trump, nor whether he’s accepting the resignation.
At least at first blush, this looks like the way an honorable man might respond if he embarrassed his boss in public — and the story about Rosenstein’s supposed invocation of the 25th Amendment certainly did. Rosenstein denied the report, as he denied instructing people to wear a wire when talking with Trump. If those denials are true, there’s no reason to resign, except to take the heat off Trump and take some responsibility for the controversy. Under normal circumstances, a president would take the opportunity to publicly reject the resignation offer and profess “full confidence” in his appointee. These, however, are not normal circumstances.
Or, perhaps, this is Rosenstein’s method of calling the bluff. He’s seen what Trump has done with Sessions; why would he want to endure the same thing? Offer a resignation and dare Trump to accept it and reap the political whirlwind of what follows. If Trump doesn’t accept it, it’s a de facto vote of confidence that will inure Rosenstein to any Trump Twitter tantrum.
Update: The Wall Street Journal’s take sounds more like a firing, given that discussions were taking place “all weekend” at the White House:
Mr. Rosenstein has not submitted his resignation, the person said.
The situation remained fluid, however, as another person familiar with the matter said Mr. Rosenstein is expected to resign, and that discussions have been underway about his departure all weekend. …
Mr. Rosenstein had disputed those assertions on Friday. In a statement released that day, he said, “I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false.”
That doesn’t negate the bluff-calling hypothesis, although it might show that it won’t have much impact on the decision.
Update: Back to the Washington Post for more information to bolster the honorable option:
One Trump adviser said the president has not been pressuring Rosenstein to leave the job, but his resignation had been a topic of private discussions all weekend. The person said Rosenstein had expressed to others that he should resign because he “felt very compromised” and was now a potential witness in the Russia probe rather than a supervisor, according to a person close to Trump.
Technically, though, Rosenstein could solve that issue with a recusal. That would leave him in place to deal with other DoJ initiatives and allow Francisco to take over supervision of the probe. Since that’s the practical outcome of a resignation anyway, why not just go for that option — and give Trump some political cover? Or does that answer the question itself?
Update: More support for the honorable option, this time from CNN:
Per @CNN sources -Over last several days Rosenstein spoke to John Kelly & said he'd resign.
A 2nd source says Rosenstein said he was “thinking” of resigning
The men decided to work it out on Monday
Kelly said to be surprised when Rosenstein called this AM to say he's resigning
— Jason K. Morrell (@CNNJason) September 24, 2018
If that’s the case, though, it at least raises the possibility that Trump won’t accept Rosenstein’s resignation.
Update: WaPo reporter Carol Leonnig’s source tells her this isn’t coming from Trump:
Source tells me Rosenstein wasn't pressured by @realDonaldTrump to go: he felt "very compromised" in overseeing Russia probe. me w @DevlinBarrett @PostRoz @AshleyRParker @costareports https://t.co/PFxMHks4zQ
— Carol Leonnig (@CarolLeonnig) September 24, 2018
Maybe the man just wants to leave.
Update: Or maybe this was much ado about nothing:
NBC's Pete Williams on @MSNBC: Rod Rosenstein appears to be staying put as Deputy AG, now attending a regularly scheduled meeting of top officials
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) September 24, 2018