Donald Trump wants to fire someone.
He’s mad as hell about the FBI raid of Michael Cohen’s office and home on Monday. He thinks it’s part and parcel of special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe, which he views as a “TOTAL WITCH HUNT” (his words) that has grown well beyond its proscribed mission. He’s still pissed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia probe. And he’s annoyed at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who now has oversight over the probe, for allowing the raid – among other things.
This tweet, which Trump sent Wednesday morning, captures that all-over-the-place rage nicely:
“Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”
(There’s a lot that’s not true there – most notably the idea that the Mueller probe is “headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama.” Yes, several of the people on Mueller’s team have donated to Democrats in the past. But Mueller is a Republican who was first chosen as the head of the FBI by President George W. Bush and named as special counsel by Rosenstein, an appointee of the Trump administration.)
At this point, the question for Trump appears to be not whether he will fire someone involved in this Russia probe but who he will fire. As in, which person can be sacrificed to Trump’s ire with the least damage.
Mueller, at the moment, seems like the most difficult person for Trump to get rid of. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, has said such a move would be “political suicide.” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has predicted that firing Mueller would be the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency. Even lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who has been an ardent Trump defender of late, told the President during a dinner at the White House on Tuesday night not to fire Mueller.
Second on that list of “who should I fire” is Sessions. Sure, Sessions is the cause of all of this – in Trump’s mind – for his recusal decision. Trump has repeatedly made clear – including earlier this week – that he would have never nominated Sessions if he knew about the planned recusal. And he has attacked Sessions over and over again on Twitter as ineffective and “beleaguered.”
And yet, Sessions remains. Why? I honestly don’t know but here’s a thought: Sessions is, generally speaking, well regarded by his Republican Senate colleagues. Firing Sessions would be looked poorly on by that group. And Trump would rather try to bully Sessions into resigning rather than pull the trigger on firing him.
Which brings us to Rosenstein, the least well known of the trio and the guy that, according to CNN reporting, Trump is actively considering firing. Wrote CNN’s Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger, Evan Perez, Jeff Zeleny, Dana Bash and Dan Merica:
“But some of Trump’s legal advisers are telling him they now have a stronger case against Rosenstein. They believe Rosenstein crossed the line in what he can and cannot pursue. And they consider him conflicted since he is a potential witness in the special counsel’s investigation because he wrote the memo that justified firing former FBI Director James Comey. The legal advisers also believe they have successfully argued to the American public that the FBI is tainted and think they can make the same case against Rosenstein.”
There is also the fact that Rosenstein is regarded poorly among conservatives on Capitol Hill as well due to what they perceive to be the Justice Department’s slow-walking of the release of documents pertaining to possible abuses of FISA as well as tied to Hillary Clinton’s email server.
House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, and Pete King, R-New York, have suggested that Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray – another Trump appointee – should be held in contempt for their failure to turn over these documents in rapid order.
“At this particular point I think that it’s members of Congress who have a bigger problem with Rod Rosenstein, myself included, that he’s not giving us the documents and he’s not doing his job and if he’s not going to do the job he needs to go and find one that he will do,” Meadows said recently.”
So, unlike getting rid of Mueller or even Sessions, firing Rosenstein might not roil Republicans on Capitol Hill but might rally (at least some of) them.
And then there is the benefit that removing Rosenstein provides Trump a path to get rid of Mueller in the medium term.
Remember that Rosenstein is, according to the federal code, the only person who can fire Mueller. While Trump appears to have concluded this isn’t accurate and that he, too, has the ability to fire Mueller himself, doing so would undoubtedly set up a massive legal fight (in addition to a political one).
What if Trump fires Rosenstein and replaces his as deputy attorney general with someone who is more amenable to the idea of getting rid of Mueller? That would kill two birds with one stone – get rid of the pesky Rosenstein and put someone in his stead who would get rid of Mueller!
Add it all up and it becomes pretty clear that Rosenstein has to be the favorite to get fired this week. And a pretty heavy favorite at that.