Washington: Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein has told White House officials he is willing to resign in the wake of revelations he once suggested secretly recording the president, but it’s unclear if the resignation has been accepted, according to people familiar with the matter.
One Justice Department official said Rosenstein is preparing to be fired.
Rosenstein had been overseeing the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with those efforts. It wasn’t immediately clear what Rosenstein’s departure might mean for that investigation, or who now would oversee it, though that role could naturally fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.
Rosenstein has been the target of President Donald Trump’s public ire and private threats for months, but his uncertainty about his future deepened, following the revelation on Friday that memos written by former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe said that in May 2017, Rosenstein suggested secretly recording the president and trying to muster support for invoking the 25th amendment to replace Trump.
McCabe memorialised discussions he had with Rosenstein and other senior officials in the stress-packed days immediately following James Comey’s firing as FBI director. At that moment, the FBI was deeply suspicious of Rosenstein’s role in the decision, and the Justice Department was worried it had lost credibility with Congress for giving Trump a memo that said the FBI needed new leadership.
Others involved in those May 2017 discussions said Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the president were sarcastic, and came as McCabe was pressing the Justice Department to open an investigation into the president over the firing of Comey as possible obstruction of justice.
In statements Friday, Rosenstein denied he ever seriously contemplated secretly recording the president or pursuing the 25th amendment replacement of a sitting president, as was first reported by The New York Times.
“The New York Times’ story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” Rosenstein said. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
In a second statement hours later, Rosenstein said: “I never pursued or authorised recording the president and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false,” he said.
For more than a year, Trump’s public and private comments about the Russia probe have led to speculation and concern that Rosenstein could be fired.
Rosenstein, a Republican and career Justice Department official who had served under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, came into office on a wave of bipartisan support, but Comey was fired soon after and he was immediately drawn into fierce partisan battles surrounding the Russia probe.
Rosenstein became deputy attorney general in April 2017, and assumed oversight of Mueller’s probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who failed to disclose to Congress that he had met during the 2016 election campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, recused himself from the investigation involving the 2016 election.
Just days into his job as the No. 2 official at Justice, Rosenstein wrote a memo criticising Comey’s handling of the earlier investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for government work.
The White House used Rosenstein’s memo to justify Comey’s firing. Days later, Rosenstein appointed Muller and the special counsel has since been examining the firing of Comey and whether it was part of a pattern of behaviour that amounts to obstruction of justice by the president.
Rosenstein’s decisions, including the renewal of a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser, have prompted furious Twitter outbursts from the president. “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” he has written.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” designed to delegitimize his election victory and undermine his presidency.
Some of the president’s most outspoken supporters have railed against Rosenstein with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., at one point, describing the deputy attorney general and other former Justice Department officials as “traitors to our nation.”