If you divide the cast of Russia scandal characters into Good Guys and Bad Guys, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been something of an enigma (or perhaps a kachina doll given the subject) in somehow managing the feat of alternately sucking up to and pushing back against Donald Trump. But for the most part, he has been a Good Guy because he has sought to protect Robert Mueller as the special counsel's prosecutors encircle the White House.
But you might want to make that former deputy attorney general -- as seems likely sooner or later -- after an explosive New York Times story that not surprisingly was overshadowed by the rolling Brett Kavanaugh nomination train wreck and would appear to give Trump the ammunition he needs to finally fire the man standing between he and Maximum Bob and that most fragile commodity in this day and age -- the truth.
The Times story, which broke late on Friday afternoon as the rest of us were waiting to see if Chuckie Grassley blinked (he did), avers that in the tumultuous days following Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017, Rosenstein suggested to Justice Department and FBI officials that he wear a wire and secretly record the president to expose the chaos consuming his administration, and discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove an unfit Trump from office.
Never mind if Rosenstein's instincts were good even if his state of mind reportedly was not. As BooMan notes over at Booman Tribune, "If you shoot for the king, you best not miss."
Rosenstein missed, of course. But The Times story is multilayered and requires some major unpacking:
Rosenstein appears to have been reacting viscerally to a threat to the rule of law, and in a larger context, to the Constitution and the republic itself because of Trump's unhinged behavior. But now that Rosenstein has been outted by The Times, that threat has never been greater because he and Mueller are so bloody vulnerable.There is a chance that The Times was spun by its sources, and it would not be the first time if you recall the infamous October 31, 2016 story saying that the FBI had found no link between Russia and Trump. Some observers are saying that Rosenstein, himself unhinged after getting burned for assisting Trump in axing Comey, was acting in jest.
I'm not buying the acting-in-jest explanation. The sources had their own motivations for talking, and these probably include fired former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, whose contemporaneous memos underpin The Times story and happens to need all the help he can get because he is being investigated by a grand jury for violating FBI policies.
An additional reason for believing Rosenstein was serious is that, as Anonymous noted in that Times opinion piece and Bob Woodward wrote in Fear, White House insiders were and remain deeply concerned about Trump's fitness. Rosenstein was far from alone in discussing as drastic an option as the 25th Amendment.
Yet another reason was that Rosenstein issued two denials. The first was a kind of non-denial denial, while the second several hours later -- said to be made after the White House, fearing what Trump might do, asked him to be less equivocal -- said he had never sought to secretly record or work to remove the president.
Non-Times sources say FBI lawyer Lisa Page was present at a meeting at the Justice Department on May 16, 2017 when Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire and believed him to be serious. Page, a Trump nemesis because of her anti-Trump texting with FBI agent Peter Strzok, has since resigned, while Strzok was fired.
The Times story and Page's presence play into Trump's alternate-universe narrative that the Russia investigation is part of a deep-state plot to avenge Hillary Clinton's loss. He can now say that Rosenstein had an ulterior motive in appointing Mueller -- getting rid of the president and so the whole megillah is compromised.
While Trump now has a casus belli to move on Rosenstein and by extension Mueller, my gut feeling is that it is beginning to sink into his narcissistic skull that making drastic moves with the midterms only 45 days away isn't smart with the Republican brand being so tarnished. So he'll hold off if not overcome by an outbreak of impetuosity.
From a narrow perspective, Rosenstein exhibited bad judgment. But in the larger and ultimately more important scheme of things, his actions substantially nourish the narrative that from practically the outset of the Trump presidency, career bureaucrats like Rosenstein and political appointees alike were alarmed at Trump's fundamental incompetence and were willing to be insubordinate. Or consider even more drastic action.
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