“Fire Rosenstein” is the new battle cry among President Donald Trump’s base in their attack on the special counsel investigation into Trump campaign involvement in Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 election.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is at the top of their hit list for several reasons, most recently his direct approval of an FBI raid of Trump’s most trusted deputy Michael Cohen on Monday, which brought special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s inner circle.
Rosenstein is overseeing Mueller’s investigation, and he is the only person who has the direct power to fire him, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from that role in March 2017 due to his role in the Trump campaign. But Senate Republicans are warning Trump against trying to oust Mueller, pitting them against Trump’s allies in the House and on cable news.
Republican pundits on cable news presented a united anti-Rosenstein front Wednesday evening. Former federal prosecutor and almost-Trump lawyer Joe diGenova called for Rosenstein to be fired on one of Trump’s favorite Fox News shows, “Hannity.”
"Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised, and conflicted that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general," diGenova said. Trump plugged the show via Twitter before it aired Wednesday night.
Longtime Republican operative Roger Stone told ABC Wednesday that Trump should fire Rosenstein and Sessions.
In Congress, House Republicans have threatened to impeach Rosenstein because of his slow response to their request for a document related to the origin of the Justice Department’s surveillance of Trump campaign members in 2016. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, is leading that charge, threatening to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress and impeach him, along with FBI Director Chris Wray.
It’s worth noting that Trump chose Rosenstein and Wray for their positions, and both men are Republicans.
Nunes alleges that the Justice Department, with Rosenstein’s approval, sought to surveil Trump campaign members because of information about Trump campaign aide Carter Page in the Steele dossier — also known as the “golden shower dossier." The unverified report was compiled by a former British spy for Trump’s 2016 election opponents, made famous for its scandalous allegations that Trump participated in “golden showers” with prostitutes at a high-end hotel in Moscow.
Alternatively, Democrats on Nunes’ committee say the Justice Department sought permission for surveillance after a tip about Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, which has been confirmed by the New York Times. Rosenstein allowed Nunes and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to view the document Thursday.
Other House Republicans want Rosenstein gone because they think his oversight of the Mueller investigation is a conflict of interest. Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice over the course of the investigation, and Rosenstein was involved in Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey in May 2017, which is an event of interest to Mueller’s obstruction probe.
“Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the obstruction of justice investigation into the firing of James Comey, can he really do that when he’s the guy who wrote the memo recommending the firing of James Comey?” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio told The Daily Caller.
Inside the White House former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is working on convincing his old colleagues of a master plan to oust Mueller, according to the Washington Post, and that plan starts with firing Rosenstein.
DiGenova, Stone, Bannon, Nunes, Jordan and other far-right conservatives are the best indicator of where Trump’s base stands. But more moderate Republicans in the Senate are warning Trump against making any moves to oust Mueller, meaning firing Rosenstein could split the Republican party in two.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called out the coordinated far-right messaging effort Thursday, echoing his colleagues who are advancing legislation to protect Mueller.
The end game here is political. Trump wants his base to believe the investigation is a witch hunt, and Democrats want them to believe it’s a dignified review. If Trump fires Rosenstein, his allies will work hard to blast Rosenstein’s shortcomings, and Democrats will work equally as hard to paint the move as the beginning of Trump’s very own Sunday Night Massacre.
Cover image: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Illustration by Leslie Xia.