- People are worried that President Donald Trump could move to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after a day of momentous developments in the Russia saga.
- Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert Mueller.
- The fears come after FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was “removed” from his post Monday.
Perhaps the most momentous day in the Russia probe in months has renewed concern that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could be the next to hit the exits – potentially putting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in question.
McCabe left the FBI a day after FBI Director Christopher Wray viewed a Republican memo that alleged surveillance abuse by McCabe, Rosenstein, and former FBI Director James Comey. The New York Times subsequently reported that McCabe’s departure took place after Wray raised concerns about another report from the Justice Department’s inspector general, which purportedly examines McCabe’s and other senior officials’ actions during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Later Monday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the controversial memo. The Justice Department has warned that releasing the memo, authored by staff for House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, a California Republican, would be “extraordinarily reckless” without an official review. But President Donald Trump wanted the memo released, The Washington Post reported this weekend.
As The Times reported shortly after the committee vote, the memo reveals that Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign associate, shortly after he took office early last year. The extension showed that the DOJ felt that Page was likely acting as a Russian agent.
Trump has ‘4 in his gunsights’
But The Times said the reference to Rosenstein’s actions in the memo showed that Republicans may seek to delegitimize Rosenstein in an effort to undermine the probe.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, Rosenstein currently oversees Mueller and his investigation. Rosenstein, who hired Mueller, is the official who has the power to fire him as well. And as The Times reported last week,Trump ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller last summer, only to back down after McGahn refused to carry out the order.
“Trump has had 4 in his gunsights,” tweeted David Gergen, a former adviser to presidents of both parties. “Two down (Comey, McCabe), two to go (Mueller and Rosenstein)?”
‘It would be a devastating development’
If Rosenstein were to leave or be removed from his post at the Justice Department, and Sessions remains recused, the responsibility of the Mueller probe would fall to the department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand, who may be more sympathetic toward Trump’s point of view on the matter.
Trump also would have the ability to nominate a new No. 2 at DOJ, but the nominee would likely face a brutal Senate confirmation process. Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority, and multiple GOP senators have expressed strong views about maintaining the Mueller probe through its conclusion.
“It would be a devastating development if Mr. Mueller were in any way impeded in completing his investigation,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Monday. “It is absolutely essential that he be allowed to complete it.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans have insisted that the release of the controversial Republican intelligence memo has nothing to do with Mueller’s probe itself.
“FISA memo is about transparency and truth, not taking down Mueller,” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading Freedom Caucus member, told Fox News Monday.
During a Tuesday press conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the memo was “completely separate from Mueller’s investigation.”
He added that there may have been “malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals,” though he said he thought Rosenstein “is doing a fine job.”
He was “hired after this last election,” Ryan said.
But others fear the investigation could soon unravel.
“Friendly amendment: Protect Mueller AND ROSENSTEIN,” tweeted Norm Eisen, who formerly served as President Barack Obama’s top ethics adviser. “Trump afraid to attack Mueller directly. The greatest threat right now is that Mueller’s current overseer is removed and some crony (say Pruitt) appointed under the Vacancies Reform Act or otherwise to throttle Mueller.”
Preet Bharara, the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, kept his thoughts on the matter much shorter.
“Protect Mueller,” he tweeted.
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