DONALD TRUMP WILL meet this week with the deputy attorney general overseeing the probe into the president’s alleged collusion with Russia, the White House said today after reports that Rod Rosenstein was about to resign or be fired.
Rosenstein’s job has looked untenable since last week’s bombshell publication of reports that he had discussed ways to remove Trump from office, due to incompetence.
“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and president Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories,” the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said.
“Because the president is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the president returns to Washington, DC,” she said in a statement.
The White House statement neither confirmed nor put to rest mounting rumours that Rosenstein is on the way out.
The departure of Rosenstein – possibly giving Trump an opportunity to get more of a loyalist as a replacement – would dramatically rock the probe into whether Russia conspired with Trump’s campaign to aid his 2016 shock presidential election victory.
Rosenstein plays a key role in overseeing the high-powered investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which Trump calls a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
Even prior to last week’s hugely embarrassing reports, Rosenstein had frequently been criticised by Trump.
Rosenstein was received today for a meeting at the White House by the chief of staff, John Kelly, with US media initially reporting that this might be the moment when he stepped down or was forced aside. A decision on that was then evidently put off until Thursday.
Trump vs Justice Department
In a highly unusual policy for a US president, Trump regularly attacks the Justice Department and the FBI, claiming that they are biased against him in the Russia probe.
Just last week, Trump referred in a speech to supporters to a “lingering stench” at the Justice Department that he would soon eradicate.
Allies of the president say he is angered and frustrated by Mueller’s probe, which has resulted in multiple prosecutions and convictions of people close to Trump – with the prosecutor’s targets inching ever higher up the chain.
The rancor between Trump and his own law enforcement bodies took an extraordinary turn with reports last week that in May 2017 Rosenstein suggested secretly recording Trump for evidence of White House dysfunction.
Rosenstein, who denies the reports, was said to have wanted to gather evidence for use in removing Trump from power under a constitutional amendment for cases when a president is not fit for office.
The New York Times and Washington Post reports were based on secret memos by a former FBI director.
Amid ever deepening paranoia and partisan division in Washington, some speculated the notes were leaked as a trap for Trump – challenging him to oust the official in charge of the Russia probe.
His presidency is already overshadowed by a book by White House chronicler Bob Woodward that depicts Trump as so chaotic and capricious that aides even swipe controversial orders from his desk before they can be signed.
But others speculated that the story about Rosenstein had been planted to undermine both the deputy attorney general and Mueller, thereby giving Trump an excuse to go on the attack.
Democrat opponents and also many from his own Republican Party have warned Trump not to take any action that could be seen as attempting to weaken or even dismantle the Russia probe.
Many have predicted that Rosenstein would have to go as a result of the reports on his supposed plot. But if this were followed by an attempt to get the new deputy attorney general to fire Mueller, that would be a red line for many in Congress.
With November midterm congressional elections rapidly approaching – and Trump’s Republicans fearing a battering – analysts say there would be considerable risk for the party if the White House is even seen to be trying to interfere in the Russia probe.