‘There is a lingering stench and we’re going to get rid of it…’
(Tom Schoenberg, Bloomberg News) Even before the latest reports sparked debates about his objectivity, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared to be in the final stretch as overseer of the Russia investigation.
He has the job only because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recused himself. President Donald Trump is widely expected to fire Sessions, whom he has constantly berated, after the midterm elections. Sessions’ replacement would also presumably step in to mind Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry.
Now, details about Rosenstein’s actions could put things in motion more quickly. In early 2017, Rosenstein worried about chaos in the White House, according to reports that he’s disputed. By one account, he offered to wear a wire –– sarcastically, perhaps –– when meeting with Trump.
Will the perceived offense, or the public airing of it, be too much for Trump?
Rosenstein’s job security has fallen in the year and a half since he’s been working for Trump. He’s withstood withering questions from Congress and potentially uncomfortable briefings with Trump, while announcing indictments in the Russia investigation and channeling offshoot inquiries to prosecutors in New York and elsewhere.
At times, he’s joked about his predicament. “I have seen stories speculating that I may be sued, fired or held in contempt,” he told to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches in January. “And that was just the last 24 hours.”
Even without a White House investigation or a constitutional crisis looming, the deputy attorney general’s job is considered the most challenging in the department, former federal prosecutors say. It is, by design, the office of controversy.
Rosenstein has been a buffer for Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. While Mueller hasn’t spoken, Rosenstein has been out front with the public and the president.
In February, he announces charges that Mueller brought against Russian nationals and entities for running a secret operation aimed at tarnishing Trump’s presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. In most major law enforcement actions, Justice Department officials are flanked by their fellow investigators. On that day, Rosenstein stood alone, reading his statement, taking three questions and walking out.
Months later, he was the one to alert Trump about charges against another set of Russians accused of stealing emails from Democrats to influence the election. He delivered the message just days before Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Aside from the Russia investigation, Rosenstein, like Sessions, Rosenstein has been carrying out Trump’s agenda with enthusiasm. He’s been pursuing the international criminal gang MS-13, one of Trump’s favorite targets.
But unlike Sessions, Rosenstein has mostly managed to placate the president: Even as Trump has repeatedly excoriated his attorney general and Mueller over what he calls a “witch hunt,” Rosenstein has few mentions on the president’s Twitter account.
Trump didn’t mention the reports about Rosenstein at a rally in Missouri Friday night but suggested more firings were coming at the Justice Department and the FBI.
He told the audience that a lot of “bad” people were already gone, but “there is a lingering stench and we’re going to get rid of it.”
(c)2018 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.