The New York Times released an anonymously sourced story today claiming that Rod Rosenstein, when he was less than two weeks on the job, discussed using the 25th amendment to remove Donald Trump from office.
But, there are couple points to this story that don’t make sense. The 25th amendment allows for the President’s cabinet to remove him from office if he is deemed unfit to further fulfill his or her duties. Rod Rosenstein, however, is not a member of Trump’s cabinet. So, why would he be discussing a process by which he would have no control over, or even ability to participate in? Also, the story says Rod Rosenstein discussed this alleged strategy less than two weeks on the job. Are we to believe that not only would he discuss a strategy with which he could not even take part, but also that he would do this less than two weeks on the job?
For his part, Rod Rosenstein has issued a strong denial of this story.
Rosenstein called the story “inaccurate and factually incorrect.”
He continued: “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
It seems clear from his response, though, that Rod Rosenstein knows what is behind this story. He knows it is an attempt by Trump to discredit him, likely to use as an excuse for Trump to fire him.
With Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort having entered into a cooperation deal with the Mueller investigation, and new reports that Michael Cohen has been having lengthy discussions with the Mueller investigation that involves relaying information related to collusion with Russia, Trump no doubt sees that if he is going to make a last ditch attempt at stopping the investigation, no matter how futile and illegal, now is the time.
This also explains Trump’s continued public comments discrediting his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump’s actions towards both Rosenstein and Sessions stem from the fact that Trump cannot directly fire Robert Mueller and stop the Mueller investigation. Jeff Sessions cannot do that either, as he has already recused himself. And Rod Rosenstein, from all accounts, will refuse to do so, if asked. If Trump were to attempt to shut down the Mueller investigation, he has 3 options:
- Trump can fire Jeff Sessions and try to replace him with an Attorney General who will not recuse himself from the investigation, and will fire Robert Mueller.
- Trump can pressure Jeff Sessions to resign, then replace him with an Attorney General who will not recuse himself from the investigation, and will fire Robert Mueller.
- Trump can fire Rod Rosenstein, then replace him with a Deputy Attorney General who will fire Robert Mueller.
All three of these options seem fairly unlikely to work for Trump, but it sure looks like he is trying. The problem with option 1, firing Jeff Sessions, is that it would be very difficult to come up with a reason that does not look like the purpose was to impede the Russia investigation, which would make it very difficult for Trump to be able to get a new Attorney General confirmed by the Senate who would impede the Russia Investigation. The problem with option 2, pressuring Jeff Sessions to resign, is that he has been doing this for many months and Jeff Sessions shows no sign of bending to that pressure. The problem with option 3, firing Rod Rosenstein, is that he would need to find a replacement who would fire Robert Mueller.
But, there could be a way for option 3 to work for Trump. If he does not name a replacement for Rod Rosenstein, oversight of the Mueller investigation would go to the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, who, while not making known if he would fire Robert Mueller himself, has argued in the past that the President can fire anyone in his administration and may use that argument to deem it is within Trump’s right to fire Robert Mueller.
Francisco points to two provisions of the Constitution as giving the president very broad authority. One says the president shall appoint ambassadors, judges and “all other officers of United States.” The other says the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
”The president’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws requires adequate authority to remove subordinate officers,” Francisco told the court in February. “The framers understood the close connection between the president’s ability to discharge his responsibilities as head of the executive branch and his control over its personnel. … The president’s ability to execute the law is thus inextricably linked to his authority to hold his subordinates accountable for their conduct.”
Francisco is basically saying the Constitution gives the president the authority to dismiss all officials who have power under the executive branch. That could, most conspicuously, give Trump a legal way to oust Mueller.
This makes option 3, firing Rod Rosenstein, look like it is perhaps the best remaining option available to Donald Trump to shut down the Mueller investigation, which he likely now sees as an absolute threat to his Presidency now that Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are cooperating.
Besides these motivational clues, there are other reasons to believe that Trump planted this story, namely that he has a very long history of planting stories.
- Trump was one of the Manhattan media’s most notorious anonymous sources throughout his career as a real estate showman.
- For years, Trump would call in anonymous tips about himself to the New York Post’s Page Six. Two of his pseudonyms were John Barron and John Miller.
- Trump frequently used the phrase “off the record but you can use it,” according to the New Yorker’s Mark Singer, who profiled Trump in the late 90s.
Trump has most likely not stopped acting as an anonymous source since becoming President. It has always been one of his favorite tactics to use to influence media portrayal of himself. Are we really to believe he would give up that tool after becoming President, when he likely has even more reason to try to influence the media’s portrayal of him? Of course not. As an example of how he has very likely continued to use this tactic, take a glance at the quotes from an anonymous source that were used in this rather lame story about Trump filming videos in the White House Rose Garden:
“The president didn’t like the sitting down, read prompter, lights-inside-a-room at the White House. So, he told the digital guys at the communications shop to come up with a couple of new ideas, and this was one of them. The president liked it, and we’re trying it out,” one senior White House official told me.
“He is the most TV-savvy president in history. Somebody said to me today, ‘Reagan was, too!’ Well, Reagan was a little bit more movies,” the senior official said. “Because of The Apprentice and everything else this gentleman has done in his life, he understands all of this — he understands lighting and, to some degrees, in some rooms of the White House, he’s not a big fan of it. So, we’re just trying to help him.”
If those quotes did not come from Donald Trump himself, they came from someone doing an impression of Donald Trump. But in either case, they came from someone who was relaying information with Donald Trump’s approval. As did the NY Times story on Rosenstein.
This is a dangerous stage we are in right now. Donald Trump will very likely be firing Rod Rosenstein very soon. This story was the pretense for that action. It remains to be seen if solicitor general Noel Francisco would then allow Trump to also fire Robert Mueller, but judging from Francisco’s past words, that remains a distinct possibility. If any of this happens, we all need to take action. Our Democracy could literally be at stake. Keep this link handy for how to join a protest if Rosenstein and/or Mueller are fired.
Donald Trump could be preparing to put himself above the law. We won’t allow it.
Trump will create a constitutional crisis if he fires special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller, or attempts to compromise the investigation by other means. (See The Plan for details.)
Our response in the hours following a potential power grab will dictate what happens next—whether Congress will stand up to Trump or allow him to move our democracy toward authoritarianism.
That’s why we’re preparing to hold emergency “Nobody Is Above the Law” rallies around the country, in the event they are needed—900+ of them and counting, in every state, with 400,000 RSVPs to date!