Analysis

Rosenstein NY Times Controversy Fuels Trump’s 'Jihad' on Mueller and FBI

By dismissing the deputy attorney general in the wake of a controversial report in the New York Times the president could be cutting off his nose to spite his face

President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 2018
Andrew Harnik,AP

A senior White House official told The Daily Beast over the weekend that Donald Trump is about to launch “a jihad” - but not against North Korea, whose tyrant Trump adores, nor Iran, whose leaders he supposedly abhors. Trump’s holy war is dedicated to demolishing his country’s justice system. His latest casus belli, irony of ironies, was supplied courtesy of the New York Times, the newspaper he relentlessly describes as “fake” and “failing.”

The Times’ report on words allegedly said by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe fell into Trump’s hands like ripe fruit. Trump has long asserted that nefarious U.S. attorneys and FBI investigators are conspiring to depose him through trumped-up charges about supposed collusion with Russia.

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The report of Rosenstein’s suggestion to McCabe that a surreptitious FBI recording of Trump could serve as a basis for invoking the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is, on the face of it, a smoking gun that vindicates the embattled president: The conspiracy is exposed, the deep state is alive and kicking and Trump is fully within his rights to try and eradicate both.

Rosenstein is a key figure, of course, in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the alleged illicit collusion between Trump and his aides and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential campaign. Rosenstein was appointed by Trump to his current post in February 2017, but found himself in charge of the investigation against his appointer after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from handling the Russia probe. Rosenstein appointed Mueller to head the investigation and has since rebuffed the efforts of Trump and his cronies to get him sacked.

In Israeli terms, judging by his behavior so far, one can state with confidence that Rosenstein is no Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister who obliged Netanyahu earlier this month by refusing to extend the appointment of Police Chief Roni Roni Alsheich. Just as Trump views Mueller, Netanyahu believes that Alsheich was overzealous in pursuing the investigation of the corruption charges against him.

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Rosenstein has denied the essence of the report in the New York Times. His colleagues and friends claim that he would never say such a thing, and if he did, it was in humor. Rosenstein would never dream of wiretapping the president, they swear, and he is fully aware of the near-insurmountable difficulty of invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal from office of a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Trump speaks with Rod Rosenstein, May 23, 2018.
AFP

Even politicians and pundits who are convinced that Trump is detached from reality and living in his own la-la land admit that his conduct, dangerous and scandalous as it may be, does not meet the high threshold of physical incapacity that would allow the vice president and member of the cabinet to depose the president, as the 25th specifies.

Rosenstein’s denial, in any case, is neither here nor there. It makes no difference to Trump’s fanatic base or to his obliging admirers on Fox News, who regularly inflate any tidbit of questionable news into proof of a worldwide conspiracy against the president. And it won’t make much of an impression on Democrats or on the majority of public opinion, which view Trump’s pursuit of Rosenstein as one of many Trump ploys aimed at obstructing Mueller’s probe and extricating the president from his imminent and damning findings.

Trump, after all, fired FBI Director James Comey and contrived McCabe’s expulsion from the FBI because of the Russia investigation. He relentlessly insults and demeans his number one fan Sessions for clinging to his recusal and refusing to intervene against Mueller’s investigation. He regularly attacks and defames the FBI and the Attorney General’s Office for backing Mueller, with the clear aim of undermining their legitimacy, at least in the eyes of his fans.

On Friday, Trump spoke of the “lingering stench” in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the once proud protector of law and order reduced by Trump’s invective to a den of treasonous liberal snakes that are out to thwart the will of the voter and oust him from office.

The cardinal question is whether Trump believes that the Times’ report provides sufficient public justification for him to dump Rosenstein and to appoint a more flexible attorney who would agree to dump Mueller, without incurring the wrath of wavering Republicans and making things worse. If Trump’s calculations are rational - a questionable stipulation in and of itself - he will postpone making any rash moves at least until the fate of Christine Baisley Ford’s testimony on Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault 36 years ago is resolved and the saga of Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court reaches its conclusion.

Rosenstein’s dismissal could theoretically spark the kind of political firestorm that could push the GOP’s weakest links - Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska - to derail Kavanaugh’s appointment in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The scandal could cause two Republican women senators - Susan Collins of Maine and Liza Murkowski of Alaska - to succumb to the formidable pressures already being exerted on them by their relatively moderate constituencies and to nix Kavanaugh’s confirmation in the full Senate plenum. When his party enjoys just a threadbare majority in the Senate, a Trump move to sack Rosenstein would be a case of cutting his nose to spite his face - not that that has ever stopped Trump before.

One way or another, the new Rosenstein flare-up pours more fuel on the constitutional, legal and political inferno that is already consuming Washington because of Trump’s reckless conduct in general and his blatant attempts to undercut Mueller in particular. U.S. analysts view the growing strength of the fire, which is constantly being fed by Trump’s challenge to the rule of law, as a telltale sign of the rapid development of the Mueller probe following the plea deal he secured with Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort and of Trump’s sense that his time to destroy the Mueller probe will soon be up.

Republicans will no doubt urge Trump to refrain from sparking yet another scandal. Rosenstein’s dismissal could galvanize already invigorated Democrats and make things even worse for Republicans in advance of the November 6 Congressional elections. Trump, however, seems convinced that the combination of his irresistible personal charisma and stellar economic performance will ultimately triumph, giving him and his party a sensational upset victory in 44 days and leaving both houses of Congress in their hands.

Normal considerations of political expediency, however, may not be relevant for a president with a hyper-inflated ego, the instincts and morals of gang bully and an ever-rising sense of paranoia. Small wonder that the very mention of the 25th Amendment elicits a palpable sense of frustration among those who believe that Trump’s presidency constitutes a mortal threat for the future of America. The solution provided by the Constitution is ideal, but for the fact that it is utterly unrealistic.