The currents of mistrust and uncertainty that have long plagued the relationship between the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) gained strength this week after reports suggested that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein spoke with other government officials about collaborating with cabinet officials and wearing a wire to record President Donald Trump in hopes of ousting him from office by invoking the 25th Amendment.
However, since those reports first broke, officials inside the White House have reportedly voiced skepticism about the authenticity of the story, believing instead that the scenario was in fact planted in the press by allies of Andrew McCabe, the fired deputy director of the FBI.
Intriguing underlying allegations
Reporting from the New York Times indicated that in the spring of 2017, Rosenstein made a suggestion that he should embark on a plan to secretly record President Trump as a means of exposing him as unfit for office. It was further alleged that Rosenstein stated a willingness to recruit cabinet officials who could, in turn, invoke the 25th Amendment to effectuate Trump’s removal.
The story asserted that Rosenstein made these explosive remarks in meetings with officials from the FBI and the Justice Department shortly after the firing of James Comey. It was reported that the individuals describing the conversations obtained their knowledge of the events from briefings and memos produced by other agency officials, including McCabe.
Adding fuel to the fire generated by this report is the claim that Rosenstein informed McCabe that he might specifically have the ability to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to launch the 25th Amendment removal process against Trump.
Rosenstein denies NYT’s characterization of events
For his part, Rosenstein has issued a vigorous denial of the accusations contained in the New York Times story, calling the piece “inaccurate and factually incorrect.” He added that he would provide no additional comment on a story that cited only anonymous sources with a clear bias against the Justice Department.
Further, Rosenstein made it clear that based on his personal interactions with President Trump, he sees no basis whatsoever for invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. In a subsequent statement, Rosenstein flatly denied pursuing any recording of the president or advocating for his removal.
Though the New York Times story paints a picture of intense palace intrigue designed to undermine a sitting president, insiders have characterized the remarks allegedly made by Rosenstein as nothing more than sarcasm borne out of professional frustration.
A former official from the Justice Department who claims to have been present during Rosenstein’s comments about wearing a wire told CBS News that while discussion of wearing a wire did indeed occur, the statement was made in a completely sarcastic manner and that it did not evince any real intention of recording conversations with Trump.
In the wake of what were initially jarring allegations, a growing number of White House insiders have come to the conclusion that the story is essentially a ruse leaked by Andrew McCabe’s camp meant to provoke Donald Trump into firing Rosenstein and igniting a whole new scandal for the administration.
It is thought that such an action on the part of the president would wreak havoc on Republican prospects in November’s midterm election, something Trump’s opponents would certainly support. McCabe, through a spokesman, has unequivocally denied any involvement in the New York Times‘ reporting.
Opinion split on Trump’s next steps
Though it appears that many within the White House are of the opinion that the Rosenstein story was a plant by McCabe and his supporters, and that the deputy attorney general should remain in his position, there are other backers of the president who have expressed strong feelings to the contrary.
Fox News legal and political analyst Gregg Jarret pulled no punches in his assessment of the situation, calling for Rosenstein’s immediate firing in a Friday tweet.
Driven by vengeance, Rosenstein sought to secretly record the President. He must be fired immediately! Since a clearly biased Rosenstein has been in charge of the Mueller investigation, it must be terminated. This illegitimate probe has been tainted by corruption from the start.
— Gregg Jarrett (@GreggJarrett) September 21, 2018
Fox’s Sean Hannity, however, took the opposite position, imploring President Trump to refrain from firing anyone. He argued that by dismissing Rosenstein, the administration would be falling into a trap set by the “deep state” that was designed undermine the Trump agenda from within.
Considering Rosenstein’s status as the Justice Department official in charge of overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, the question of his continued employment is a potential minefield for President Trump. The ultimate decision regarding Rosenstein’s professional fate remains to be seen, with the White House thus far giving no clear signals in either direction.