The Slatest

Trump Reportedly Asked Rod Rosenstein, the DOJ Official Overseeing Russia Probe: Are You “on My Team?”

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe at the Department of Justice July 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe at the Department of Justice July 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump’s meddling in the Russia investigation continues unabated, according to CNN, which reported Wednesday that Trump hinted at the need for loyalty in a December meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the DOJ official who appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel and is overseeing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Ahead of an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 13th, according to CNN, Rosenstein went to the White House to solicit help from the president in “fighting off document demands” from House Intelligence Chairman and member of the Trump transition team Rep. Devin Nunes, who has technically recused himself from the House version of the Russia investigation.

From CNN:

Trump appeared focused on Rosenstein’s testimony, according to a source briefed on the matter, and he brought it up with the deputy attorney general… Trump wanted to know where the special counsel’s Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was “on my team.”

At the December meeting, the deputy attorney general appeared surprised by the President’s questions, the sources said. He demurred on the direction of the Russia investigation… And he responded awkwardly to the President’s “team” request, the sources said. “Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” Rosenstein told Trump, the sources said. It is not clear what Trump meant or how Rosenstein interpreted the comment.

The New York Times reported last week that Trump considered firing Rosenstein over the summer when he also reportedly ordered the firing of Mueller before backing down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign over the move. CNN reported recently that Trump’s desire to dump Rosenstein has not diminished. Trump has, so far, refrained from sacking Rosenstein, which, in many ways, would be far worse and more dangerous than ousting Mueller. Whether or not Trump pulls the trigger or not, ultimately he may not have to. Trump’s shown a corrosive ability to make life sufficiently miserable for perceived enemies in government that they leave on their own accord because they can no longer effectively do their jobs with the president’s attention trained on them. Former FBI number 2 Andrew McCabe, for example, appears to be a casualty of the soft power of the presidency wielded to take out officials not under the thumb of the president.

Trump taunted and goaded and complained about McCabe for months on Twitter and to advisers and gave the one-time acting FBI head a loyalty test of his own, asking McCabe during an introductory White House meeting if voted for him in the 2016 election. It was clear what Trump’s endgame was; eventually the dam broke and McCabe was gone one way or another. The same process seems to be playing out again, this time with Rosenstein. “As a further sign of the President’s focus on Rosenstein’s [December] testimony, one of the sources said Trump also had suggested questions to members of Congress that they could ask Rosenstein,” according to CNN. “One line of inquiry Trump proposed lawmakers ask about was whether Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election because Mueller was not selected as FBI director… Sources say Trump believes Rosenstein was upset Mueller wasn’t selected as FBI director and responded by making him special counsel.”

Trump’s tried a similar tack with Mueller, concocting absurd conflict of interest claims, like a dispute between Mueller and Trump’s Virginia golf club, in order to conjure sufficient outrage—or minimally confusion. It hasn’t worked so far with Mueller, but, according to the particularly cynical Trump strategy, all he has to do is make a life long public servant’s job impossible to do and then wait for him or her to fall on the sword in order to preserve the best interests of the institution or bureau or department.