Last Friday morning, before the Mueller indictments against the Russians were made public, FBI Director Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed Trump on the coming announcement. As I suggested previously, that gave the White House time to develop talking points that were included in the president’s tweet immediately following the release of the indictments. Since then we’ve heard these three talking points repeated endlessly by the president, his supporters and right wing media:
- The Russians started in 2014, before Trump announced his candidacy
- The Russian efforts didn’t affect the outcome of the election
- There was no collusion with the Trump campaign
What I found most interesting is that Deputy AG Rosenstein basically repeated those talking points during his press conference on Friday afternoon.
For the first five minutes of his prepared remarks, Rosenstein summarized the specifics of the indictments. But what he never mentioned are the numerous times they specifically state that the Russian efforts (particularly starting in April 2016) were designed to support Trump and hurt Clinton. As an example, early on in the document is a summary of their goals.
Not only did Rosenstein fail to mention that the goal of the efforts by early to mid-2016 was to support Trump and disparage Clinton, the one and only example he recounted was that after the election the Russian’s organized both a pro-Trump and anti-Trump rally in New York on the same day. For those who didn’t read the actual document, the idea that these efforts were only an attempt to sow discord in the election rather than in support of Trump was affirmed by Rosenstein’s account.
At approximately 4:50 in the video above, the Deputy Attorney General basically reiterated talking points #2 and #3 above. He ended his remarks by saying that nowhere in the indictment is there an allegation that any American was a knowing participant in these activities and that there is no allegation that the conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
I find all of that pretty troubling. Is it merely a coincidence that Rosenstein repeated the White House talking points during his prepared remarks at the press conference? I don’t think so and am reminded of the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey on how the president was obsessed with pressuring him to make public statements about how Trump was not the target of the FBI’s investigation. Did the president pressure Rosenstein to repeat his talking points about these indictments? It looks like he did.
The question becomes: why did Rosenstein comply? It could be that he is simply providing cover for Trump at this point. But in praising the deputy AG for his performance on Friday, David Kurtz might have unknowingly provided an answer to my question.
Rosenstein makes it infinitely harder for Trump to fire him, as he is now the face of the probe. He also spares Mueller from being the face of the probe, and from all the slings and arrows of political fortune that go with that role (recall Ken Starr).
Rod Rosenstein is the one person Trump would have to go through to fire Mueller. In order to keep the special counsel he appointed from that fate, he has to keep his job. It very well might be that appeasing the president on these talking points was the dance Rosenstein had to do in order to in order to stop Trump from flying off the handle and creating a constitutional crisis.
If the day comes that Mueller releases evidence that implicates the president in a conspiracy with the Russians and/or obstruction of justice, that crisis will definitely unfold. But as others have suggested, at that point it will be too late.