While Senators Move to Protect Mueller, Rosenstein is the More Likely Target

The Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to vote on a bill to prevent the president from unduly firing Robert Mueller. But the real concern at the moment is whether or not the administration will make a move to either fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein or force him to recuse himself from oversight of the special counsel.

As you might remember, Trump recently wanted to bring attorney and political commentator Joe diGenova on board as part of his legal team. For whatever reason, that didn’t work out. But it is very likely that he is using his forum on Fox News to provide legal advice to the president. Last night that advice was unequivocal—Attorney General Jeff Sessions should fire Rod Rosenstein immediately.

According to the Washington Post, Steve Bannon is meeting with “White House aides, GOP lawmakers and conservative media figures” to come up with a plan to stop the threat posed by the Mueller investigation. Their number one recommendation is to fire Rosenstein. Maggie Haberman connected the dots.

As Philip Bump outlined yesterday, here is what that would accomplish:

Remember: Rosenstein gets final say over prosecutions and areas of investigation. Replacing Rosenstein with someone willing to help derail Mueller would allow Trump to tie Mueller’s hands. The new deputy attorney general could simply block any new indictments or, as an expert told me, likely scale back the scope of the investigation in significant ways. Mueller would still be in place — he just wouldn’t be able to do as much.

As I noted recently, Rosenstein is also the one who will make a decision about whether or not Mueller’s reports are released to Congress and the public. That came up a couple of weeks ago when we learned that Mueller plans to issue a report in June or July on the obstruction of justice charge. So the clock is ticking.

It is worth noting that Trump considered firing Rosenstein not too long ago and it wouldn’t take much to get him to do so now.

Bannon and his allies sense that Trump simply needs a nudge to fire Rosenstein, according to the people familiar with Bannon’s discussions. They said Trump has recently told friends and aides that he is willing to engage in political warfare in the coming months to stop his presidency from being consumed by the investigation.

The “political warfare” that is being proposed by this coordinated effort is to nudge the president into firing the deputy attorney general who has oversight of a criminal investigation into the president’s campaign. Would that be enough to wake up Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress? We might be about to find out.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.