Rosenstein to see Trump on Thursday – a Comey rerun?
Trump and Rosenstein | Evan Vucci, Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

WASHINGTON—This Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, meets the potential top target of Mueller’s probe, Donald Trump, in the Oval Office.

The question is what will happen at that meeting – and its ramifications. Will now-President Trump force Rosenstein to quit? Will Trump fire him? Or will Trump try to exact a “loyalty oath” from Rosenstein, as he tried with former FBI Director James Comey before firing him?

And the follow-up: What’s the reaction of the country, both at large and among Trump’s legions, who believe, as he does, that the whole Mueller probe is “a witch hunt” or worse.

Rosenstein is overseeing Mueller’s probe because Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself due to his own key role in Trump’s 2016 campaign and his own contacts with the Russians during those months.

That left oversight and protection of Mueller’s independence in the hands of Rosenstein, a Republican former U.S. attorney for Maryland, and also a career prosecutor whose past reputation is that he does not yield to political pressure.

Neither did Comey, in terms of flak from Trump’s GOP defenders and in direct questions from Trump. So Trump fired him.

This past weekend, Rosenstein discussed resigning, especially after a report in the New York Times said he pondered – last year – either taping Trump during meetings or trying to invoke the 25th Amendment to the constitution to get the vice president and the Cabinet to remove Trump due to inability to carry out the duties of his office. Rosenstein said the taping comment was sarcastic and not meant to be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, Trump’s aides told the president to cool it, saying firing Rosenstein now would boomerang against Trump and Republican candidates up and down the ballot in the coming mid-term elections, now just five weeks away.

Rosenstein instead went to the White House the weekend of Sept. 23-24 to have “an extended conversation” with Trump, but nothing happened after that, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

The Trumpites, in and out of Congress, have been yowling for Rosenstein’s head on a platter almost since the Russia probe began. The public reaction is another matter.

There have been no polls on firing Rosenstein. But the most recent poll on firing Mueller, by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, shows an 80 to 10 percent margin against such a firing by Trump. Even 65 percent of Republicans want Mueller to stay on and finish the Russia probe.

And 61 percent want Congress to pass a law reappointing Mueller as an independent prosecutor if Trump fires him. An independent prosecutor would be out of the reach of the president to remove.

But Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told CNN that if Trump fires Rosenstein, the deputy AG promptly becomes “a key witness” in Mueller’s investigation – and the firing becomes “Exhibit B” in an obstruction of justice presidential impeachment charge against Trump.

The Comey firing was Exhibit A, said Schiff, top Democrat on the politically polarized House Intelligence Committee – whose GOP majority produced a selective report whitewashing Trump.

Trump “fired the FBI director in charge of the investigation. He would have fired the (deputy) attorney general representative in charge of the investigation,” Schiff said.

“Shame on the Congress of the United States if we allow that to happen,” he said. “I think the firing of Rod Rosenstein is one step removed and not far removed from the firing of Bob Mueller, and we need to protect that investigation.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.