Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein floated the idea of secretly recording President Trump in the White House, according to an explosive New York Times report the Justice Department official has vehemently denied.
The controversial news story also cited sources claiming Rosenstein tried to recruit other Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment, a provision in the US Constitution enabling them to start the process of relieving the president of his duties. Rosenstein has rejected that claim as well.
According to The Times, Rosenstein allegedly floated the suggestions to former acting FBI Director and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, with an eye toward exposing the “chaos” roiling the Trump White House.
Rosenstein immediately denied the report late Friday, calling it a hit job. “The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. 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,” he said in a statement Friday night. “But let me be clear about this: based on my personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
In a follow-up statement later Friday, he added, “I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false.”
The news story has Washington on edge, amid fears that the report may push the mercurial president to fire Rosenstein — an action he has long been rumored to be considering. Such a move would have knock on effects on the ongoing Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an investigation being led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.
Sources who spoke with The Times claimed Rosenstein made the suggestions in spring of 2017, following Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey. They claimed Rosenstein felt blindsided by Trump’s decision to cite a memo he had authored with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That document criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
The report has since come under scrutiny by those who know Rosenstein well.
“I have known Rod for 25 years,” tweeted Norm Eisen, Brookings senior fellow and chair of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “If he says it is ‘inaccurate & factually incorrect,’ it is.”
Eisen and many others also suggested the story may have been a “revenge effort by McCabe,” who The Times said documented Rosenstein’s discussions in a series of memos and who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March, though that claim has not been substantiated. A representative for McCabe tweeted Friday that any suggestion McCabe was the source of the Times story was false.
Rosenstein’s allies in the Justice Department also pushed back against the report, claiming the deputy attorney general made the comments about recording Trump in jest.
“I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment. The statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president,” one person who was in the room at the time told Politico on Friday.
Another Justice Department official told the outlet the story “just [didn’t] add up.”
“I know him enough to know that he knows the 25th Amendment is about incapacity,” former Justice official and friend of Rosenstein James Trusty told Politico, separately. “It’s not, ‘I don’t like the president. He’s treating me badly. It would not be even remotely in his mind as an option.”
Trump allies both in Washington and across conservative media, by contrast, have called for Rosenstein to be investigated or fired.
“Rod Rosenstein must be fired today,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote in a now-deleted tweet. Politico noted that Ingraham is one of the 47 people Trump follows on Twitter.
NRATV host Dan Bongino, whom the president has quoted on several occasions in tweets from his official account, said Rosenstein’s comment about recording Trump, even if made in jest, was inappropriate.
“There are things you joke about and there are things you just don’t. …You would think this would be common sense when you’re the deputy attorney general of the United States,” Bongino said in an interview on Fox & Friends Saturday.
“Joking about removing a duly elected president due to a mental or physical incapacitation when is he not incapacitated is not a joke. The fact that we’re having this conversation on a national cable broadcast is disturbing in and of itself.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of Rosenstein’s strongest critics in the House, CNN notes, also came out swinging this week. Speaking with the network Friday, the Republican, who has faced his own troubles of late, claimed an investigation was necessary to sort out the accusations in the Times report.
“Mr. Rosenstein says he didn’t say what The New York Times is writing about. Let us see all the information and we can all judge for ourselves,” he said.
Rosenstein has long been the target of Trump’s ire over his involvement with the Russia investigation. After Trump fired Comey in May 2017, and with Sessions recused from the case, Rosenstein was tapped to appoint a special counsel to continue the investigation the FBI had started months earlier. Rosenstein subsequently selected Robert Mueller to lead the probe, which had been expanded to include allegations of obstruction against Trump and his associates.
Trump, who has said repeatedly that the investigation is a partisan witch-hunt, therefore sees Rosenstein as the impetus for his ongoing legal woes. On Friday night, he took aim at the deputy attorney general, implying Rosenstein would soon be fired from his role at the Justice Department.
“I want to tell you, we have great people in the Department of Justice, we have great people. These are people, I really believe, you take a poll, I got to be at 95 percent,” Trump told a crowd of supporters at a rally in Missouri. “But we had some real bad ones — you see what’s happened at the FBI, they’re all gone, they’re all gone, they’re all gone. But there’s a lingering stench and we’re going to get rid of that, too.”
The Times report notably comes days after the president ordered the Justice Department to declassify key unredacted documents in the Russia investigation, against the advice of intelligence and national security officials. On Friday morning, hours before the Times article was published, Trump suddenly reversed course.
“In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary,” he tweeted.