On Friday morning, President Trump confirmed he is under investigation for obstruction of justice, while seemingly taking a shot at his deputy attorney general.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
Trump’s acknowledgement that he’s personally under investigation comes after the Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, broke that news on Wednesday night. Trump defenders seized upon former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony last week that he had told Trump he wasn’t under investigation before he was fired by Trump, conveniently ignoring Comey’s strong suggestion that the special counsel’s work includes a probe of Trump for possible crimes.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is actually leading the special investigation into Trump and his campaign. But Trump’s comment about “the man who told me to fire the FBI Director” appears to refer to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote a memo critical of former FBI Director James Comey that Trump cited while announcing his decision to fire Comey last month. Rosenstein still makes decisions about staffing and resources for Mueller’s investigation and, in certain circumstances, can fire him.
Rosenstein’s memo didn’t technically recommend Comey’s firing, but criticized the former director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. In the letter Trump sent to Comey informing him that he was being fired, the president wrote that he had received a memo via Attorney General Jeff Sessions that was written by Rosenstein “recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.”
Comey was overseeing the investigation into the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia, and Sessions recused himself from any campaign-related investigation after misleading statements he made under oath about his contacts with Russian officials came to light. But the attorney general signed off on Comey’s firing anyway.
Though Trump initially cited the recommendation from Rosenstein and Sessions as the reason he decided to fire Comey, during an NBC interview days later he admitted that Comey’s ongoing investigation into his campaign and Russia was a reason he decided to fire him. He also admitted he decided to fire Comey prior to Rosenstein and Sessions’ recommendation. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel less than a week later.
During testimony before Congress earlier this week, Rosenstein refused to answer a question about who directed him to write the anti-Comey memo, saying it might be part of Mueller’s investigation. His refusal to talk suggested that in addition to serving as acting attorney general overseeing Mueller’s probe, he might also be a witness to a crime being investigated by the special counsel.
Trump’s attack on Rosenstein comes on the heels of him repeatedly trying to smear and discredit Mueller.
You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
Despite the phony Witch Hunt going on in America, the economic & jobs numbers are great. Regulations way down, jobs and enthusiasm way up!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
It also comes the day after a Politico report indicating that Trump is obsessed with the ongoing Russia investigations. From Politico:
Trump, for months, has bristled almost daily about the ongoing probes. He has sometimes, without prompting, injected. “I’m not under investigation” into conversations with associates and allies. He has watched hours of TV coverage every day — sometimes even storing morning news shows on his TiVo to watch in the evening — and complained nonstop.
On Monday, one of Trump’s close friends — Chris Ruddy, CEO of the right-wing media company NewsMax — said publicly that Trump is considering firing Mueller. Rosenstein, not Trump, has the authority to make that move. Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller and then fire Rosenstein if he refused.
During his testimony earlier this week, the deputy attorney general said he has seen no good reason to dismiss Mueller at this time.
On Thursday night, Rosenstein released a bizarre statement advising Americans to “exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials.’”
Inbox: Bizarre statement from DAG Rosenstein pic.twitter.com/EVAUJpJWMP
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) June 16, 2017
Shortly after that statement was released, the Washington Post broke news that Mueller “is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”
On Friday, ABC News, also citing anonymous sources, reported that Rosenstein “has privately acknowledged to colleagues that he may have to recuse himself” from overseeing Mueller’s probe.
“Those private remarks from [Rosenstein] are significant because they reflect the widening nature of the federal probe, which now includes a preliminary inquiry into whether [Trump] attempted to obstruct justice when he allegedly tried to curtail the probe and then fired James Comey as FBI director,” ABC reported. “Rosenstein, who authored an extensive and publicly-released memorandum recommending Comey’s firing, raised the possibility of his recusal during a recent meeting with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s new third-in-command, according to sources… Although Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to lead the federal probe, he still makes the final decisions about resources, personnel and — if necessary — any prosecutions.”
Trump’s continued public pressure on Mueller and Rosenstein won’t quell suspicions that he is still trying to obstruct the active investigation into himself, his campaign, and family members.
As recently as May 11, Trump praised Rosenstein, describing him as “highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him; the Republicans like him.” But after he appointed Mueller as special counsel on May 17, Trump accused Rosenstein of launching “the single greatest witch hunt of a political in American history!”
UPDATE: According to a Fox News reporter, Trump’s legal team is trying to walk back the tweet in which Trump seemed to confirm he’s under investigation for obstruction of justice.
a source close to POTUS legal team says he was NOT confirming that he is under investigation, but referring to WaPo story https://t.co/lQBQnawTrc
— Brooke Singman (@brookefoxnews) June 16, 2017