The Knowns and Unknowns About Rod Rosenstein

Rumors about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were flying fast and furious on Monday. This article from the Washington Post explains what happened and gives us some clues about what was behind it all.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein will stay in the job for now, but will meet with the president on Thursday, White House officials said Monday, after officials described a series of private discussions that pointed to his resignation or firing.

“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington, D.C.”

The announcement capped a tense few hours after officials said Rosenstein had told White House officials over the weekend that he was willing to resign in the wake of revelations that he once suggested secretly recording President Trump.

On Monday morning, White House officials said Rosenstein had offered to resign to quell the controversy, while Justice Department officials said he had no intention of resigning but was heading to the White House with the expectation he would be fired.

After Rosenstein met with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, he proceeded to a meeting of senior administration officials, indicating that at least for the moment, he was staying on the job.

The outcome is that Rosenstein still has a job—for now. But it sure looks like journalists who were reporting that he resigned were listening to White House sources while those saying that he expected to be fired were hearing from people at the Justice Department about what Rosenstein feared was going to happen.

However, this drama isn’t over yet. Rosenstein could still be fired on Thursday when he meets with the president. I doubt it because, as far as I know, Trump has never fired anyone from his administration face-to-face. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

The one thing we know for certain is that all of this drama comes on the heels of an article last Friday in the New York Times about Rosenstein.  David Simon, who spent twelve years as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, wrote a response that he titled simply, “Malpractice.” I recommend that you read the whole thing, but this critique is particularly cogent:

…we are a nation that is at the cusp of a profound Constitutional crisis. That reality had already been made obvious and manifest when Mr. Comey was fired and he informed others in DOJ that judicial independence was at issue in his contacts with the new POTUS. In the wake of that firing, any and every discussion that competent DOJ professionals had about the matter would have engaged with the tactics, fears, frustrations, considerations, pitfalls and risks of proceeding to operate ethically and independent of any executive obstruction of judicial procedure. In short, if they WEREN’T sitting in rooms, stressed, trying to chart their way around an ethical minefield and still do their jobs, it reflects incompetence or, worse, abdication.

Having covered federal law enforcement, I know this much. These are men and women who occupy a unique ethical space in our governance, serving as they do at the pleasure of the U.S. president, but maintaining their fundamental oath and loyalty not to the president, but to the Constitution. There is conflict and nuance baked into that reality in the best of circumstances; the U.S. President overtly demanding loyalty and the intervention in DOJ casework by the FBI director, then firing the man is scarcely the best of circumstances.  For DOJ professionals attempting to continue in their positions after such event, talking it all out and contemplating every option, risk, scenario is elemental to the job.

That is the context the New York Times left out of their story, making Rosenstein look almost unhinged in his response.

What struck me when reading this piece by Simon is that this is yet another subtle way that the media has normalized the (perhaps criminal) behavior of this president. Under “normal” circumstances, a Deputy Attorney General who even jokes about surveilling the president or invoking the 25th amendment would appear unhinged. That is what Trump and his enablers want us to take from the New York Times article. But by not providing context for Rosenstein’s behavior, the reporters failed to address the fact that, as Simon says, a failure to explore all options under these circumstances could demonstrate incompetence.

Between that article last Friday and all the drama we witnessed based on rumors Monday, the mainstream media hasn’t done much to earn our trust over the last few days. We can only hope that some objective self-reflection will ensue.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.