On Wednesday, CNN broke news that President Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he’s “on my team” during a White House meeting last month.
Citing unnamed “sources familiar with the meeting,” CNN reports that Rosenstein was “surprised by the President’s questions,” and “responded awkwardly.”
“Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” Rosenstein reportedly told Trump.
Trump’s querying of the deputy attorney general about his political allegiance is part of a pattern of inappropriate comments to officials with the Department of Justice, which is supposed to operate independently of political interference.
Last January, Trump infamously told then-FBI Director James Comey, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Comey later told Congress that after an uncomfortable silence, he told Trump, “You will always get honesty from me.”
Trump, apparently dissatisfied with his inability to bring Comey under his control, fired him in May.
The day after Trump fired Comey, the president reportedly grilled the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, about who he voted for in the 2016 election. According to the Washington Post, McCabe responded by saying he didn’t vote, and later told officials he found the interaction “disturbing.”
Earlier this week, McCabe — who Trump repeatedly attacked on Twitter as an ally of Hillary Clinton — announced he’s leaving the DOJ.
Trump believes the role of the Justice Department is to protect him. During an interview with the New York Times last month, Trump compared Attorney General Jeff Sessions unfavorably with former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, and said, “I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama… And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest.”
Trump reportedly fumed at Sessions after he recused himself from the Russia investigation, which paved the way for Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel following Comey’s dismissal.
According to CNN, Rosenstein headed to the White House for his meeting with Trump because he “wanted Trump’s support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.” Nunes has been leading the Republican effort to publicly release an intelligence memo that purportedly discusses FBI misconduct related to the bureau’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
On Wednesday, the FBI took the unusual step of releasing a strongly-worded statement asking the White House to stop the release of the memo, citing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” But Trump has seemingly already made up his mind to allow the memo to be released publicly. Following his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Trump was caught on a hot mic telling a House Republican that he “100 percent” supports the memo’s release — despite the fact that at the time, Trump hadn’t even read it yet.
Trump appears to have been unsatisfied with Rosenstein’s response to his question about which team he’s on, and intends to use the memo to do something about it. On Tuesday evening, the Washington Post reported that Trump “has told close advisers recently that the memo could provide him with grounds for either firing or forcing Rosenstein to leave, according to one person familiar with his remarks.”
Rosenstein is the only U.S. official with the authority to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the investigation into the Trump campaign. Multiple outlets reported that last week that Trump tried to fire Mueller in June of last year.
Rosenstein or whoever replaces him as deputy attorney general will also ultimately make the decision about whether or not Mueller’s investigatory findings will be made public.