Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Jack Gruber-USA TODAY NETWORK

Rosenstein Will Meet With President Trump At White House Thursday

September 24, 2018 - 5:01 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS/AP) — The White House delayed until at least Thursday a decision on the fate of Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official overseeing the Trump-Russia investigation, following chaotic hours of breathless and sometimes conflicting reports anticipating his imminent departure.

His future hanging in the balance over revelations that he had discussed possibly secretly recording the president, Rosenstein expected to be fired as he headed for the White House on Monday for what was later described as a prescheduled meeting.

Instead, the White House said that Rosenstein and Trump would meet Thursday after the president's return to Washington, suggesting the deputy attorney general may be in his job for at least several more days. The meeting is set for the same day as an extraordinary Senate committee hearing that is to feature Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.

In a statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Rosenstein had “an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories.”

Sanders explained that because of Trump’s busy schedule this week, he would not be able to meet with Rosenstein until Thursday.

Earlier, Trump, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, left open the possibility of relieving Rosenstein of his duties in an interview with Geraldo Rivera which aired Monday morning. The president has expressed frustration with both Rosenstein and his superior, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump has blamed Session for recusing himself in the Russia investigation, which is why Rosenstein was placed in charge of the probe.

The latest developments came just three days after news reports indicating that last year Rosenstein had raised the idea of secretly recording Trump and of invoking the Constitution to have his Cabinet remove him from office. The Justice Department issued two statements from Rosenstein denying the remarks and released a separate statement from someone who said he recalled the recording comment but insisted that it was meant sarcastically.

As Trump mulled Rosenstein's fate and consulted on how to respond, Rosenstein was summoned to the West Wing on Friday evening by White House chief of staff John Kelly.

He also spoke with White House counsel Don McGahn over the weekend to say he was considering resigning, according to a person familiar with the conversation. McGahn told Rosenstein they should discuss the issue Monday, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

Rosenstein was captured by photographers leaving the White House after his meetings Monday and was led out by Kelly.

Any termination or resignation would have immediate implications for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign before the 2016 election. Rosenstein appointed Mueller and oversees his investigation. In the case that Rosenstein does step down, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the highest-ranking Senate confirmed official below Rosenstein in the Justice Department, would take control of the Mueller investigation.

It's unclear what will happen Thursday.

"It's so weird that it's even being announced but to have sort of a one on one meeting between someone, an employee, who's rumored of trying to remove their boss from office and the boss I don't think it's a stretch to expect it to be a tense discussion," Politico's Daniel Strauss told WCBS 880.

Despite his "You're Fired!" tagline from his "The Apprentice" reality show days, the president has shown himself reluctant to directly fire aides himself.

While his White House has been marked with unprecedented staff turnover, Trump has often left the task to deputies, including Kelly. He dispatched his former bodyguard to fire former FBI Director James Comey — though Comey was out of town. In other cases, Trump has publicly and privately shamed a staffer, pushing them to resign of their own volition.

The reports about Rosenstein add to the turmoil roiling the administration, just six weeks before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake. In addition to dealing with the Mueller investigation, the White House is also struggling to win confirmation of Kavanaugh, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.

The latest speculation surfaced Monday morning amid conflicting reports about Rosenstein's plans. One person with knowledge of the situation said he expected to be fired, though other reports suggested that he would resign.

Trump, who on Friday suggested that he would remove a "lingering stench" from the Justice Department, did not publicly reveal any plans over the weekend.

As of Sunday, Trump said he had not decided what to do about Rosenstein. He angrily asked confidants, both inside and outside the White House, how to respond. He received mixed messages. Some urged him to fire Rosenstein. Others suggested restraint while seeing if the report was incorrect or if it was planted by some adversary.

Congressional Republicans, Democrats and some Trump aides have warned for months that the president shouldn't fire Rosenstein, saying such a move could lead to impeachment proceedings if the Democrats retake the House in the upcoming midterms.

Though Trump has mostly spared Rosenstein from some of the harsher and more personal attacks he has directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he has occasionally lashed out with angry tirades at the Justice Department's No. 2 official, including after FBI raids in April targeting the president's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May of last year after Sessions, who ordinarily would have overseen the investigation, recused himself because of his close involvement in the Trump campaign.

Those developments came one week after Rosenstein laid the groundwork for the firing of Comey by writing a memo that criticized Comey's handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server. The White House initially held up that memo as justification for Comey's firing, though Trump himself has said he was thinking about "this Russia thing" when he made his move.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose private memos document comments made by Rosenstein, said Monday he was concerned that a Rosenstein departure would put the investigation at risk.

"There is nothing more important to the integrity of law enforcement and the rule of law than protecting the investigation of special counsel Mueller," McCabe said in a statement. "I sacrificed personally and professionally to help put the investigation on a proper course and subsequently made every effort to protect it."

Critics have also signaled that firing Rosenstein would be an obstruction of justice.

"For a long time lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, as well as legal experts have warned that firing Rosenstein could cause greater headaches and put the White House in a perilous path really because it would appear that Trump was trying to obstruct justice by removing a major figure involved in the investigation -- the special counsel probe of the White House," Strauss said.

If Rosenstein goes it could potentially spell trouble for Special Counsel Mueller. Althought the president can't fire Mueller directly.

"The special counsel provision says that the president can't fire him directly, it has to be the attorney general, or in this case the action attorney general which has been Rod Rosenstein," said Jennifer Rodgers, who teaches at Columbia Law and is a former federal prosecutor. "You know if he's picking a new deputy attorney general then certainly he can kind of with a wink and nod suggest that he wants the Mueller investigation gone and kind of choose someone that he thinks might do that."

She thinks the fallout would be more political than legal although it's hard to know how the GOP would react.

"Many prominent Republicans have said that this is a red line for them, that he shouldn't mess with this investigation, that he should let it go, but then they've also said at other times that it's dragging on and the country needs closure," Rodgers said, adding that this has the potential to present a Constitutional crisis.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)