CNN and others are reporting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who headed to the White House this morning, has been in discussions with the White House about his resignation. CNN is reporting Rosenstein verbally offered his resignation to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly last week. There have been conflicting reports about whether Rosenstein will be fired or resign, although all accounts seem to agree that Rosenstein does not expect to remain in his current position for long.
Rosenstein is in charge of overseeing Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s alleged role in facilitating it and his firing or resignation could have a dramatic impact on the course of the probe.
So far Mueller’s investigation has led to 35 indictments and six guilty pleas, including from Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates, and Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations in an investigation referred to the Southern District of New York by Mueller.
Rosenstein’s reportedly forthcoming firing or resignation comes after a Friday New York Times story reporting Rosenstein offered to secretly record the president and suggested rallying cabinet members to invoke the 25th amendment and remove the president from office after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Other reporting suggested Rosenstein made the remarks sarcastically and Rosenstein has twice denied the claims. His second denial came after the White House asked him to issue a more forceful statement discounting the accusations.
The information about Rosenstein’s alleged statements comes from contemporaneous memos former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe written after meetings with Rosenstein. McCabe has released a statement denying responsibility for leaking the memos and warning that Rosenstein’s firing would put the Mueller’s investigation at risk.
Statement from Andrew McCabe re: Rosenstein rumors: pic.twitter.com/1Zki2BdZEi
— Melissa Schwartz (@MSchwartz3) September 24, 2018
Whether Rosenstein—who has thus far defended the Special Counsel probe—is fired or resigns has major implications for Mueller’s investigation. If Rosenstein resigns, his position may be filled by the presidential vacancies act, which allows the president to temporarily fill any vacancies with someone who has already received Senate confirmation. Rosenstein’s replacement could be free to end the Mueller investigation or to deny Mueller’s requests, limiting the scope of the investigation and slowing it dramatically.
If no one is named to replace Rosenstein or if a legal battle determines he has authority, Solicitor General Noel Francisco would become the acting Attorney General overseeing the Russia investigation (Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from matters involving the 2016 election). Francisco was a clerk for right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and has expressed skepticism over Special Counsel probes in the past. He, too, could dramatically limit the Mueller investigations scope and speed. Francisco went out for a public dinner with Rosenstein and Sessions amidst Donald Trump’s public criticism of Sessions in what was widely viewed as a show of solidarity between the three top Justice Department officials.
AG Sessions, Dep AG Rosenstein and Solicitor General Francisco very publicly out to dinner together tonight.
Kind of Last Supper-ish, isn’t it? pic.twitter.com/JkCsJZS1zO
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) March 1, 2018
There is currently legislation pending that would protect the Special Counsel’s probe into the 2016 election but Senate Republicans have refused to bring the matter for a vote, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting such legislation is unnecessary.
Rosenstein has been a target of Trump’s allies in Congress for some time. Vociferously pro-Trump Representatives Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan have pushed for his impeachment and urged Trump to fire the Deputy Attorney General. After Friday’s bombshell report, Fox News host and Trump booster Laura Ingraham tweeted that Rosenstein should be fired immediately while Trump confidant Sean Hannity insisted Rosenstein not be fired, claiming (without evidence) the reports were part of a “set-up.” Ingraham has since deleted the tweets calling for Rosenstein’s removal.
Along with former FBI Director James Comey, Rosenstein would join Sally Yates, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strozk and others who have been pushed from high-level Justice Department jobs for seemingly political reasons surrounding the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
If Rosenstein is indeed fired, over 400,000 people have promised to march in protest in more than 900 demonstrations across all 50 states.
URGENT: If Trump fires Rod Rosenstein, join over 400,000 people who have pledged to protest.
— #MarchForTruth (@MarchForTruth17) September 21, 2018
UPDATE: Rosenstein is remaining as Deputy Attorney General for the time being and will meet with President Trump this Thursday, according to a statement from WHite House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) September 24, 2018