Trump meeting stokes fears he may oust Rosenstein
Rod Rosenstein, the embattled deputy attorney general overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday amid growing fears that the president may oust Rosenstein in an attempt to rein in the inquiry.
A source familiar with the meeting said the topic of the White House meeting was outstanding document requests from Congress — a front-and-center complaint among some Republican lawmakers and Trump allies who have been clamoring for Rosenstein’s firing.
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While the source said Rosenstein exited the meeting with his job still intact, the topic of the meeting — one that would usually be below the level of a presidential discussion — stoked concerns that Trump may be pursuing a backhand way to undercut Mueller’s wider Russia investigation without sparking an outright constitutional crisis.
Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, who has lead authority over Mueller’s investigation because of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, has increasingly come under fire from Trump and White House allies after he reportedly authorized an FBI raid on Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney.
He has also drawn Republicans’ complaints for not more quickly turning over an unredacted version of a two-page document that the FBI used to initiate its investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, earlier this week threatened to pursue impeachment proceedings against Rosenstein if he didn’t turn over the document — a crisis that Rosenstein may have averted by submitting the document on Wednesday.
Still, the calls for Rosenstein to go haven’t abated.
Joseph diGenova, a former federal prosecutor who nearly joined Trump’s Russia legal team last month, said during a Wednesday night interview on Fox News that Sessions should fire his top deputy.
“Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised and conflicted that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general,” diGenova told network host Sean Hannity during his nightly program, which Trump himself had touted just minutes before it aired on Twitter.
Trump earlier on Wednesday went after both Mueller and Rosenstein directly and blamed them for sour U.S. relations with Moscow over key policy issues.
“Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama,” the president posted on Twitter. “Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”
Rosenstein, under Justice Department regulations, has the authority to fire Mueller for good cause. He’s also in charge of approving Mueller’s budget and all of his major enforcement moves, from issuing subpoenas to obtaining any grand jury indictment.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney from Michigan, said she was concerned that Trump could immediately replace Rosenstein with an ally in the acting deputy attorney general role who — at least for a nominal period — would not require Senate confirmation and who’d be more open to adding restrictions to the special counsel investigation.
“You can get an interim who can do some things outside the public eye and won’t end the investigation but might curtail it a little bit,” she said.
But terminating Rosenstein would probably cause a backlash in Congress, too. House and Senate GOP and Democratic leaders have defended Rosenstein, with some equating the move to taking out Mueller.
“If Rosenstein were to be fired with a view toward constraining the investigation, that would be in plain sight, in daylight a very deliberate crime, it would be an obstruction of justice,” warned Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, added: “Firing Rod Rosenstein, to me, is the same as firing Bob Mueller.
Joining the ranks of Rosenstein supporters on Thursday was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
“Yeah, I think so,” Grassley responded when asked by reporters in the Capitol whether he backed Rosenstein. “But that doesn’t mean that I think he’s doing the right thing.”