Last month there was a report in the New York Times claiming that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein had suggested he wear a wire in meetings with President Trump as a step toward possibly removing the president from office under the 25th Amendment. Within hours, Rosenstein denied the story saying it was “inaccurate and factually incorrect.” Before the day was out, an unnamed source had told Politico they were in the room when the comment was made and that it had been a sarcastic quip: “‘I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment. The statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president,’ the person said.”
Yesterday, Fox News reported that an FBI lawyer’s recollection of events was at odds with the claim the comment had been suggested sarcastically.
Two senior FBI officials told the bureau’s top lawyer they believed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was “serious” when he discussed secretly recording President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year, according to sources close to a congressional investigation – an account that conflicts with claims from Rosenstein and others that the comments either were inaccurately reported or made in jest.
Former FBI General Counsel James A. Baker told congressional investigators during a closed-door deposition last week that then-FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe and FBI lawyer Lisa Page came to Baker “contemporaneously” after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. Baker said Page and McCabe relayed details of the meeting where Rosenstein made the comments.
Though he wasn’t personally in that meeting, Baker told congressional investigators he took McCabe and Page’s account “seriously,” the sources said. Further, Baker told congressional investigators he suspected “Rosenstein was coordinating with two people in the administration to invoke the 25th Amendment,” a source said.
So it sounds as if McCabe and Page thought Rosenstein was serious. And today, the Washington Post backs up the Fox News reporting with its own story:
Baker told congressional investigators last week that the deputy attorney general’s suggestion was presented to him by senior FBI officials as being serious — raising questions about Rosenstein’s assertions to the contrary, the people said…
McCabe memorialized the conversation in a memo which also alleged Rosenstein suggested using a constitutional amendment to try to remove Trump from office. The former acting FBI director has told people Rosenstein suggested using a wiretap on multiple occasions. McCabe’s account of the wiretap is supported by Page and notes she kept. Another person at the meeting, though, has said he did not take Rosenstein to be making a serious suggestion.
At the time of the meeting, tensions were running high between Rosenstein and McCabe, and according to participants in the meeting, it was clear that both men were on edge.
There are probably multiple ways to read this but at the moment only two come to mind. First, it’s possible Rosenstein, who still has a job to lose, is lying about the suggestion he made and that it was in fact serious, or at least serious enough that people in the room sought advice on what to do about it.
Second, McCabe has pretty conclusively (to my mind at least) been shown to not be a reliable source about his own activities. Remember the DOJ Inspector General found evidence that McCabe lied multiple times under oath about his own behavior leaking things to the media. He even dragged his then-boss, James Comey into it, claiming Comey had approved his leak while Comey said McCabe had told him he had nothing to do with the leak.
In short, McCabe is a weasel whose word can’t be trusted. Maybe Rosenstein made a joke and McCabe decided it was an opportunity to get a guy he was already at odds with in hot water by running to the FBI’s attorney and writing a memo about it.
Again, there may be other options but those are the two that jump out. It’s unfortunate that it’s no longer obvious which FBI agents’ word should be trusted. But ultimately there’s only one person whose opinion matters. Given the new reports, who is Trump going to believe?