Just, er … maybe not today. Originally, the White House hinted that Washington might be the site of two momentous simultaneous showdowns, one at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue — Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford on one end, and Donald Trump and Rod Rosenstein on the other. Last night, though, Trump suggested that he didn’t want to distract from Ford’s testimony, and that it might not be much of a showdown anyway:
Trump said Rosenstein denied making remarks first attributed to him in a New York Times report, including that he had discussed possibly secretly recording the president and using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.”I would much prefer keeping Rod Rosenstein,” Trump said at a news conference in New York. “He said he did not say it. He said he does not believe that. He said he has a lot of respect for me, and he was very nice and we’ll see.”Trump added, “My preference would be to keep him and to let him finish up.” …
“I may call Rod tonight or tomorrow and ask for a little bit of a delay to the meeting, because I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of this very important Supreme Court pick,” Trump said.
This morning, Kellyanne Conway reassured the Fox & Friends audience that the showdown will occur and that both men are committed to “resolving” their differences. It’s just not going to happen while Ford and Kavanaugh are in the hearing, that’s all:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) September 27, 2018
“He will come back here, and there’s a lot on his docket including the meeting with the deputy attorney general,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, told Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, a few hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee where Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will testify.
“If it needs to get pushed a few hours or to the next day maybe it will,” Ms. Conway said of the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Rosenstein. “But they are both committed to speaking with each other and resolving this once and for all.”
“This” refers to the New York Times’ scoop from a week ago, alleging that the deputy Attorney General suggested a 25th Amendment effort to remove Trump from office and advised his colleagues to wear a wire when speaking with the president. Rosenstein emphatically denies both, while others in the conversations say that Rosenstein was being sarcastic with the latter. Nonetheless, the Washington Post reports that Rosenstein is concerned that the story compromises his ability to supervise Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, which is one reason why he might have offered to resign.
The very fact that this meeting keeps getting pushed off — and that it will take place — suggests that Trump doesn’t want Rosenstein out, either through voluntary resignation or by termination. John Kelly could have handled either one of those on Monday when Rosenstein appeared at the White House, which would have relieved Trump from the task of handling it himself. Despite his TV persona, it’s become apparent from his presidency that Trump doesn’t like firing people in person. That’s not unusual for executives, especially these days, but those who have that issue will avoid one-on-one meetings if that’s on the agenda. If the meeting takes place, I’d bet that it ends with Rosenstein going back to his office at the DoJ to conduct business as usual.
As I wrote in my column for The Week, that’s really the best outcome for Trump at this point anyway:
The stakes for this meeting are sky high. It’s no secret that Trump wants to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which he has often called a “witch hunt.” After Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, it fell to Rosenstein to supervise the probe. So far, he has remained steadfast in supporting the investigation. But if Rosenstein departs, the possibility of a Mueller firing goes up — as does the confrontation with Congress over it, as members of Congress from both parties want the probe to wrap up on its own.
To some extent, how Rosenstein leaves matters just as much as whether he leaves at all. If he resigns, that would allow Trump to use the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 to appoint a temporary replacement who has already been confirmed by the Senate for another position. That would allow him to cherry-pick someone within the administration who would end Mueller’s probe. But if Rosenstein is fired, that strategy would go out the window, as the FVRA does not apply to terminations. That would put Solicitor General Noel Francisco in charge of Mueller’s fate. Francisco is a Trump appointee, but he has a long track record in Washington and is not historically inclined toward populist impulses.
Swan reported later Monday afternoon that the Justice Department had already drafted an announcement of Rosenstein’s departure. “The statement does not include the word ‘resignation,'” Swan wrote, but he noted that Rosenstein was willing to resign and had made that offer to Chief of Staff John Kelly. Nevertheless, the announcement would have declared Francisco the acting deputy AG, and as such, would give him the duty of “overseeing the special counsel investigation.”
But is Rosenstein actually leaving? Given all the headaches a Rosenstein departure would cause the Trump administration and the little it would actually accomplish, it’s very possible he’ll remain in his role. NBC News later reported that Trump had already decided not to fire him during the weekend discussions. Both Trump’s White House advisers and his “outside allies” had counseled him to refrain from letting Rosenstein go, perhaps mindful of the war that his departure might start. If that’s the the case, then Thursday’s meeting might end up being just as anti-climactic as Monday’s White House visit, even if it does have “a real doomsday feel,” as one Department of Justice source put it to The Daily Beast.
It’s more of headache for Trump at this point if Rosenstein leaves, especially since Mueller’s probably all but wrapping things up anyway. Trump doesn’t need to create that kind of crisis before the midterm elections. Better to let it string out for a few more weeks, at a minimum, before setting the world on fire.
Addendum: According to Evan Pérez, it’s not happening today:
President is not at the WH. This was a previously scheduled meeting. There are currently no plans for a Trump/Rosenstein meeting today. https://t.co/wtvW3KlpY6
— Evan Pérez (@evanperez) September 27, 2018
Update: Stay tuned!
BREAKING: Trump spoke with Rod Rosenstein a few minutes ago and they plan to meet next week.
"They do not want to do anything to interfere with the hearing," Sarah Huckabee Sanders says.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 27, 2018