President Trump is not generally given to understatement, but he soft-pedaled problems at the Department of Justice. There is, he said Friday, a “lingering stench” there.
A “stench” doesn’t describe the situation. A snake pit is more like it.
The report by The New York Times that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plotted to remove Trump, either by wearing a wire or invoking the 25th Amendment, cements forever the fact that there was and still is a deep state centered in the nation’s top law-enforcement agency. This was a plot by power-mad individuals who aimed to overturn the 2016 election and thwart the will of voters.
Rosenstein, two weeks into his new job, reportedly suggested the ideas in a meeting with others at the FBI. He called the Times story “inaccurate” but denied specific allegations with lawyerly wiggle room, meaning Rosenstein is no Brett Kavanaugh when it comes to total assertions of innocence.
Later, the Justice Department conceded Rosenstein made the comments, but insisted he was joking.
Joking, schmoking. I believe he was deadly serious based on the sequence of events before and after the meeting.
It took place on May 16, 2017 — exactly a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, according to the Times and other media reports.
Rosenstein had favored the firing and wrote a compelling memo laying out why it was justified. When the White House cited his memo to fend off critics, Rosenstein reportedly felt he was being set up as a fall guy. Democrats attacked him as a Trump stooge and he told friends he feared for his reputation.
He supposedly called the meeting to explain himself to Comey’s crew, including Andrew McCabe, who had been named acting FBI director. Instead, it became a gripe session about Trump and chaos at the White House.
Rosenstein’s offer to record the president is said to have included a suggestion that applicants for the FBI job also record him. Considering the gravity of the meeting, none of that sounds like joke material.
Indeed, the Times describes Rosenstein’s state of mind as anything but jovial, saying he “appeared conflicted, regretful and emotional.” He was also “angry at Mr. Trump.”
It soon became clear just how angry. The next day, May 17, Rosenstein shocked Washington by appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel and directing him to take over the existing Russia collusion investigation and virtually anything else Mueller wanted to probe.
Furious at the president and being attacked on all sides, Rosenstein suddenly had the power to strike back. And he did.
He was able to act unilaterally because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from anything having to do with the 2016 campaign.
Here we are, 16 months later, and Mueller has not revealed a shred of evidence against Trump or any other American involving actual collusion. Yet the unrelated charges filed against Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and others are a gift to Democrats and have led to endless damaging headlines about Trump, many of which turn out to be false or meaningless.
And it all began because Rod Rosenstein was an emotional wreck and in a job too big for him. History might never have turned on a smaller hinge.
This being Washington, there are other elements to the story. McCabe is likely a prime source, with reports saying he and others wrote memos about the May 16 meeting.
McCabe, of course, faces possible indictment for allegedly lying to Justice Department investigators about a media leak, and probably blames Rosenstein for his firing. The story could be his revenge at his former boss and the whole department.
And don’t rule out a Comey role. As chief snake, he did more to damage FBI credibility than any man or woman in America, yet has made no secret of his desire for revenge for being exposed and fired.
Oddly, the timing of the plot story could also involve a link to Trump’s decision to reverse his order for officials to declassify documents from the Russia probe. Rosenstein is fighting a bitter battle with some GOP members of Congress who want the documents, and reportedly appealed to Trump to slow the release.
The documents presumably would make Rosenstein look bad since he signed the last application for a surveillance warrant against Trump associate Carter Page. It would be a head-scratcher if Trump acted to protect him.
At any rate, the idea that Rosenstein serves at the pleasure of the president now takes on an extra dimension. Trump recently called their relationship “fantastic,” though his Friday reference to a “lingering stench” almost certainly refers to the deputy attorney general.
Whether the plot revelation will be the end of Rosenstein is a guessing game. The advantages of keeping him, at least for now, involve calculations about what impact a firing would have on the midterms and the Mueller probe.
In addition, somebody would have to replace Rosenstein, and that’s not a battle Trump needs now, especially with Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination unresolved.
On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Trump Friday not to fire Rosenstein. In the political hall of mirrors, that could mean Schumer actually wants Trump to fire him so Dems would have fresh campaign fodder.
Thus, the president has no great option, only two bad ones. Keep the man who wanted to entrap and remove you, or fire him and bring on more trouble than you can handle.
Welcome to the snake pit.
‘Decent’ reminder for dems
Reader Jeffrey Bash knows how to invoke history. Citing the smear tactics Democrats are using against Brett Kavanaugh, he wants a modern-day Joseph Welch to say to Sens. Dianne Feinstein or Chuck Schumer what Welch said to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954 as McCarthy accused a young lawyer of Communist ties. Welch’s rebuke would fit like a glove: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
Politi-blowing the reference
Block that metaphor!
Politico, describing an exchange of charges between Gov. Cuomo and GOP challenger Marc Molinaro, noted that Molinaro has the high ground, then weirdly added: “But as the Germans positioned over Omaha Beach discovered on a famous day in June, 1944, you can only hold the bluffs so long in the face of prolonged assault.”
On top of everything else, I’m confused about whether Cuomo or Molinaro is the Nazi.
Deb gets a demerit
From The Post: “Parents and even teachers at a Brooklyn performing arts school were shocked to learn Friday that the school can no longer audition prospective students under the district’s new diversity plan.”
If Mayor de Blasio really believes merit doesn’t matter, he should demand his beloved Boston Red Sox use his racial quota system for picking players. That would be fun to watch.
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