BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — As Air Force One streaked across the desert sky and Las Vegas faded in the distance, President Donald Trump began seeking opinions.
The TVs on the plane, tuned as always to Fox News, carried headlines about an explosive new story: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire to secretly record Trump, and raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.
On the flights both to and from a Missouri rally, Trump polled staff on the plane, called his outside network of advisers and kept a careful eye on what his favorite hosts on his favorite network were recommending.
The messages were mixed, but more were in favor of containing the urge to fire Rosenstein, a move that would declare open warfare with the Justice Department and cast doubt on the future of the special counsel’s Russia probe, according to two people familiar with the exchanges but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
And on Saturday, another Trump cable favorite, Jeanine Pirro, took to Twitter to wonder if Rosenstein himself leaked the story “to force” Trump to fire him.
Spending the weekend at his New Jersey golf course, Trump continued to ask allies about the reports and fumed about the involvement of McCabe, whom the president has long believed conspired against him. McCabe was fired this spring not being fully truthful under oath.
But the president’s attention was also divided while at Bedminster, as he was focused on developments in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings while also being urged by aides to prepare for the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.
Trump, never shy to loudly express disappointment in the Justice Department, has not tweeted about the matter. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
“Rod deserves the right to be heard,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“And I’m sure at some point the president will bring Rod in and say, ‘Rod if you think I am incompetent, if you feel the need to wear a wire when you’re talking to me, then why are you serving in my administration?'”
Democrats urged that Rosenstein be spared.
The report “must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing Rosenstein in order to install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.
But the reports create even greater uncertainty for Rosenstein in his position at a time when Trump has lambasted the department’s leadership and publicly humiliated both Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Some of Trump’s fiercest congressional allies had already floated trying to impeach the deputy attorney general.
It’s also the latest revelation that could affect Mueller.
Sessions withdrew from the Russia inquiry soon after he took office, to Trump’s dismay, and Rosenstein later appointed Mueller. Trump has resisted calls from conservative commentators for more than a year to fire both Sessions and Rosenstein and appoint someone who would ride herd more closely on Mueller or dismiss him.
The reported conversation about possibly secretly recording the president took place at a tense May 2017 meeting during the tumultuous period that followed Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. The White House said that decision, which upset many rank-and-file agents, was based on the Justice Department’s recommendation. The Justice Department issued a statement from one of the participants in the meeting who described the remark as sarcastic. ___ Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.