Washington flew into a frenzy on Monday morning following initial reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was expected to leave his job. But hours later, he was attending a scheduled meeting at the White House.
Rosenstein’s job was thrown into question after The New York Times reported on Friday that he had discussed wearing a wire around President Donald Trump and advocated invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. Rosenstein vehemently denied the allegations in the article, and subsequent news reports also called some of its details into question.
The White House and the Justice Department offered differing accounts following the conflicting reports about Rosenstein’s highly publicized trip to the White House on Monday.
White House officials told The Washington Post that Rosenstein had been expected to resign in the wake of The Times’ story. But a Justice Department official told The Post that Rosenstein went there expecting to be fired and did not offer to resign, despite having weighed the option over the weekend.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Rosenstein had an “extended conversation” with the president about the news on Monday and that the two would meet again on Thursday.
In the aftermath of a wild morning, DOJ veterans and current and former intelligence officials expressed relief that the deputy attorney general remains in his position.
‘He is the only person, the one buffer, protecting Mueller’
If Rosenstein were to resign rather than be fired, “it would play into Trump’s hands,” said Glenn Carle, a retired CIA operative.
The president has long targeted Rosenstein and other DOJ officials who he believes are working against him.
If Rosenstein were to step down, Carle said, it would solve one of Trump’s problems without adding another layer to a growing obstruction-of-justice case against him.
Carle added that it would also allow the president to appoint a loyalist to oversee Mueller, which could “deal a grievous blow to the idea of the Justice Department serving the Constitution and the laws rather than an individual.”
“If he gets fired, he gets fired,” he said of Rosenstein. “There’s some nobility in that. Quitting is basically handing the president victory on a silver platter.”
Another current FBI agent said there was “no doubt that rank and file would be angry if Rod Rosenstein stepped down or got fired because of that NYT report.”
“Many were on high alert this morning,” they added.
But they said Mueller had also taken steps to ensure that certain divisions of the DOJ and the FBI are briefed so they could continue the investigation if Trump fires him or Rosenstein.
If Rosenstein “is fired or resigned, that’s a blow to the public-facing aspect of the investigation, but it in no way means the entire thing would be shut down,” they said.
“The president would have to fire everybody at the FBI and DOJ for that to happen.”