If Donald Trump attempts to fire Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, he would be required by law to first fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who was appointed by Trump himself in January — because Rosenstein oversees Mueller’s probe into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s presidential election.
But Rosenstein testified to Congress last week that he sees no cause to fire Mueller. Now, Trump has begun privately making disparaging remarks about the second-ranking Justice Department official, leading some experts to believe that Trump’s new strategy to stifle the Russia investigation is not to fire Mueller but to hand Rosenstein a pink slip instead.
As the Russia investigation has gathered momentum, alarming Republicans and the White House with such moves as last week’s revelation that Mueller’s team had obtained thousands of Trump transition team emails without Trump’s knowledge — emails that experts believe likely show evidence of crimes being committed by Trump’s transition team — rumors have swirled around Washington, D.C., that Trump plans to fire Mueller in an attempt to end the Russia probe before the Christmas holiday.
But on Sunday, Trump told reporters that he has no current intention of firing Mueller but said nothing about whether he would fire Rosenstein. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation due to his own Russia contacts, Mueller reports directly to the 52-year-old former United States attorney for Maryland.
Firing Rosenstein could have a chilling effect on the Russia investigation, experts say because Rosenstein’s replacement would likely be a Trump loyalist who could take a more strict hand in guiding Mueller, prohibiting the special counsel from following any investigative path that made Trump uncomfortable.
According to White House insiders who spoke to the Washington Post for a Sunday report, Trump may be preparing himself to fire Rosenstein by privately lashing out against the deputy attorney general, who has so far refused to give Trump a pretext to fire Mueller.
Trump has gone on “rants” against Rosenstein to aides, blasting the deputy attorney general as “a Democrat,” according to the Post report, though Rosenstein is a Republican as is Mueller. Rosenstein was appointed as U.S. attorney in 2005 by President George W. Bush in 2005. He had previously worked for Special Prosecutor Ken Starr in the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton that led to the revelation of Clinton’s sexual liaison with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Aides told the Post that Trump now considers Rosenstein “a threat to his presidency.”
Other reports from inside the White House paint a somewhat different picture of Trump’s mood, however. According to a CNN report on Monday, Trump “has privately seemed less frustrated about the investigation,” according to White House sources who spoke to the network’s reporters.
In fact, CNN reported, Trump has told aides that he believes that Mueller will ultimately clear him of any wrongdoing, and do so in writing. CNN reports that close associates of Trump, who once worried that Trump would make an impulsive decision to fire Mueller that would spark a massive political and public outcry, are now concerned that Trump is not taking the threat posed by the Russia investigation seriously enough.
Trump also takes a dismissive attitude toward the entire Russia investigation, CNN reported, referring to the Russia probe as “bull****” and telling associates, “I don’t know any Russians,” a claim that is contradicted by available evidence. For example, see the Inquisitr report at this link for information on four Russian or Russia-linked individuals associated with Trump whom Trump has claimed he does not know.