Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is set to be interviewed by congressional investigators this week about his 2017 comments, shortly after President Trump took office, suggesting that he and others secretly record interactions with Trump, as well as raising the possibility of recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the president from office. Rosenstein has pushed back saying the initial reporting on his comments was “inaccurate and factually incorrect.” “I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false,” he said. Others with knowledge of or who were present at the meeting suggested Rosenstein made the remarks sarcastically, while still others in and around the meeting have said Rosenstein was very much serious about wiretapping the president.
Whatever Rosenstein’s level of seriousness and intent was, the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the comments were taken seriously by some, including then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. After hearing of the remarks, McCabe sought legal counsel from top FBI lawyer James Baker, who told investigators “last week that the deputy attorney general’s suggestion was presented to him by senior FBI officials as being serious,” the Post reports. “According to Democratic aides familiar with Baker’s testimony last week, Baker could not recall which senior FBI official—McCabe or lawyer Lisa Page, who was at the Rosenstein meeting—recounted the substance of what was said to him. One of the aides said that while Baker characterized Rosenstein’s concern as ‘very serious,’ it did not appear that Baker thought Rosenstein’s proposal was ‘an official one.’”
Rosenstein’s comments, if serious, are extraordinarily grave coming from the Justice Department number two. The remarks have already put Rosenstein’s job in jeopardy and lent credence to Trump and his allies’ claims that the DOJ, FBI, and, particularly, the Mueller investigation, are out to get him. Baker’s testimony that Rosenstein’s comments were relayed in a serious—though perhaps not official—tone will increase pressure on Rosenstein, a Republican who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel and oversees his work, to show he acted within the bounds of his job and the law.