Ed touched on this Times story in his last post but it’s worth another thread. Finally, I think, we have a solution to the mystery of why there’s been so much grumbling about Rod Rosenstein lately. There was a leak to the Daily Beast last week claiming that he figures prominently in Devin Nunes’s memo; there was a piece at CNN alleging that Trump has been “venting” about Rosenstein in the past few weeks, saying things like “let’s fire him, let’s get rid of him”; and he’s been part of the nightly White House communique to MAGA nation via Sean Hannity’s show. Why now? Why are Trump and his top cronies suddenly so irritated with the deputy AG when they have more prominent whipping boys available in Comey, Andrew McCabe, and even Jeff Sessions?

The likely answer: Because the memo’s going to show that Rosenstein, Trump’s own handpicked deputy at the DOJ, concluded last spring that there was indeed probable cause to believe there was a Russian agent inside Trump’s campaign tent, namely, Carter Page. That doesn’t mean the original FISA application in 2016 that kickstarted the Russiagate investigation wasn’t illegitimate, but if Trump’s own guy did in fact confirm a year later that he thought surveillance of Page should be continued based on the evidence he’d seen, that’s a bad narrative for the president. It’s not a “witch hunt” if there really are witches per Trump’s own DOJ appointee.

Someone who’s seen the memo probably leaked this information to the White House, knowing that Rosenstein’s interest in Page is a big problem for Trump’s spin on the investigation. So Rosenstein’s credibility had to be attacked, immediately. Wouldn’t be the first time TrumpWorld sprang into action to try to discredit “problematic” DOJ officials.

A secret, highly contentious Republican memo reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate shortly after taking office last spring, according to three people familiar with it.

The renewal shows that the Justice Department under President Trump saw reason to believe that the associate, Carter Page, was acting as a Russian agent. But the reference to Mr. Rosenstein’s actions in the memo — a much-disputed document that paints the investigation into Russian election meddling as tainted from the start — indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.

The memo’s primary contention is that F.B.I. and Justice Department officials failed to adequately explain to an intelligence court judge in initially seeking a warrant for surveillance of Mr. Page that they were relying in part on research by an investigator, Christopher Steele, that had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Rosenstein was confirmed as deputy Attorney General in late April, which means he thought there was probable cause to continue investigating Page as recently as nine months ago. If in fact the original FISA warrant against Page was based in part on the Steele dossier, Democrats will point to Rosenstein’s action as validation after the fact that the original warrant was justified. Which is a dubious argument — you can’t let the cops go rifling through people’s belongings based on rumors and then, if they find something incriminating, turn around later and say, “Aha, probable cause!” Probable cause needs to be there from the start. But that’s another intriguing angle to Rosenstein’s role in all of this: Did he take into account the original basis for surveilling Page when he renewed the surveillance last spring? If the original warrant had been dubiously sourced but the subsequent investigation had turned up something damning, would Rosenstein have felt duty-bound to quash the investigation into Page last spring? Or would he have let it continue when given the opportunity to end it?

If Rosenstein reviewed the original FISA application against Page, found it unproblematic, and then greenlit a renewal, that would mean two prominent officials — Rosenstein and the FISA judge who approved the application — had found no issue with the basis for the original Russiagate application. Again, a bad narrative for Trump if so.

Another question surrounding the Nunes memo: Is the goal merely to discredit key players in the probe or is it to give Trump grounds for firing them? And by “them,” I mean Rod Rosenstein.

Trump, appearing frustrated and at times angry, has complained to confidants and aides in recent weeks that he does not understand why he cannot simply give orders to “my guys” at what he sometimes calls the “Trump Justice Department,” two people familiar with the president’s comments said…

The president also made clear in recent days that he hopes that new questions facing the investigation allow him or his associates to make changes at the Justice Department, two people familiar with Trump’s comments said.

The president has told close advisers that the memo is starting to make people realize how the FBI and the Mueller probe are biased against him, and that it could provide him with grounds for either firing or forcing Rosenstein to leave, according to one person familiar with his remarks. He has privately derided Rosenstein as “the Democrat from Baltimore.” Rosenstein is not a Democrat. He was appointed as a U.S. attorney in Maryland by President George W. Bush and was kept in that post by President Barack Obama.

If Rosenstein comes out looking corrupt in the memo, that’s Trump’s opening to can him — *if* his deputies in the White House like Don McGahn will back him up, which they probably wouldn’t given the political firestorm to follow. I don’t know why Trump is obsessing about Rosenstein, though, when he could solve his Rosenstein problem and indulge his anger at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russiagate probe in one fell swoop by simply firing Sessions instead. A new AG with no need to recuse himself would take over Russiagate oversight from Rosenstein and could perform the role of being “my guy” at the “Trump Justice Department” that the president craves. The problem, I suppose, is that the most obvious crony candidates for the position, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, almost certainly couldn’t get confirmed in a 51/49 Senate. And anyone who’s not a crony and could get confirmed probably wouldn’t be any more useful to the White House in short-circuiting Russiagate than Rosenstein has been.

Anyway, with the memo poised for release and the Democratic rebuttal memo destined to leak, we’re in for many days of partisan bickering about “troubling” yet vaporous details in the underlying intelligence that can’t be shared with the public. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is already trying to counterprogram the memo by warning of many ominous details that supposedly came to light in documents that were seen only recently by the Committee. February will be fun.