In Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre, Rosenstein Will Get Axed (Not Mueller)
By Nick Knudsen
Updated 2:52 PM ET, Tue January 30, 2018
In the coming days or weeks, Donald Trump will fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. When he does, most of America will say, “Rod who?”
And that is a huge problem, because firing Rosenstein will likely obstruct the Mueller investigation – and justice itself – in ways that the public will not fully understand or be able to see. The Resistance movement has thus far successfully instilled in the public an appreciation for the importance of Robert Mueller’s investigation and why firing him would amount to obstruction. The public must now become aware – and quickly – of how critical Rosenstein is to the unimpeded success of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and how Trump, the GOP, right-wing media and Russia-linked forces are setting the table to remove him from the picture.
Please read this whole piece and spread to others in your network. What is happening is complicated, but the facts and conclusions are laid out below, and are followed by important action steps you can take to help defend the rule of law. American democracy is officially on red alert: this is what a budding constitutional crisis looks like.
Our story starts 11 months ago, when on March 2, 2017 Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Justice Department’s investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, after multiple previously undisclosed contacts between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak came to light.
With Sessions recused, the recently Senate-confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – a long-time DOJ professional, Republican and Trump appointee – was granted oversight and authority over DOJ’s Russia investigations (most notably those occurring at the FBI under then-Director James Comey).
On May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey, a move that has since exposed Trump to potential obstruction of justice charges. Eight days later, Rosenstein announced the appointment of former FBI Director Mueller (another Republican) as Special Counsel.
Rosenstein’s Role in Mueller’s Probe
At the time of Mueller’s appointment, Rosenstein defined the scope of the investigation – which he left very broad. Though Rosenstein does not provide day-to-day supervision of Mueller’s investigation, as Deputy AG under the recused Sessions he does provide general oversight over the probe. He also has the power to halt any investigative or prosecutorial step that Mueller wants to take that he deems inappropriate or unwarranted. (This is a critical point.)
Because Rosenstein appointed the Special Counsel, gave him a broad mandate, and has testified to Congress that he sees no cause to fire Mueller, there is a general confidence that Rosenstein is overseeing the investigation with integrity.
If I Can’t Fire Mueller, Who Can I Fire?
In June, 2017, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, though McGahn refused and threatened to resign if Trump demanded it. It appears that the threat of major public backlash has since deterred Trump from firing Mueller (Trump has now repeatedly said he is not going to fire him).
Instead, a plan appears to have been in the works to achieve similar ends (crippling the Mueller investigation), but in a way that sidesteps the public backlash of a Mueller firing.
The Washington Post reported on January 27, 2018 that Trump wants to fire Rosenstein. This would allow Trump to install a new Deputy AG who he believes would be willing to hamper Mueller’s investigation using oversight power, by blocking investigatory and prosecutorial steps that Mueller wants to take.
This type of investigatory hindrance could occur without the public or Congress knowing that Mueller’s actions are being blocked. Rosenstein’s replacement would not have to tell Congress about any blocking of Mueller’s proposed actions until after the investigation is complete; this is when the regulations would require Rosenstein’s replacement to report any curtailed actions to the Chairmen & Ranking Members of the Senate & House Judiciary Committees.
OK, I’ll Fire and Replace Rosenstein. But on What Grounds?
Technically, Trump doesn’t need grounds to fire Rosenstein, who serves at the pleasure of the President. But to quash public backlash as much as possible – and to avoid further appearance of obstruction – he does need a reason.
And Trump has another problem: curtailing the Mueller probe going forward isn’t enough, as the investigation has already led to mounting evidence against Trump, his friends & his family. He needs the newly appointed Deputy AG to have the pretense for halting investigations and prosecutions that stemmed from the famed Steele Dossier and from early FISA warrants and surveillance used in the investigation.
So the GOP hatched a way to kill two birds with one stone.
Commence Operation #ReleaseTheMemo
The “Nunes Memo”, authored by the Chair of the House Intel Committee Devin Nunes, will reportedly accuse Rosenstein, along with Comey and FBI Deputy Director McCabe, of abusing FISA and surveillance.
Nunes has refused to show the memo to the DOJ, the FBI or Senator Richard Burr (Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee). He did however show it to House Republicans, some of whom have made claims on Fox that it is explosive and that people in the DOJ/FBI should go to jail over the abuses it supposedly documents.
The memo claims to be based on highly classified material Nunes subpoenaed from the FBI and DOJ about the use of the Steele dossier, FISA warrants and surveillance in the Russia investigation. Per an agreement with Paul Ryan, that information was made available in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) only to Nunes (or his designee), Schiff (or his designee), and two staffers each. Nunes designated Trey Gowdy and Schiff reviewed it himself. Nunes has not even seen the underlying intelligence.
Adam Schiff, the Ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee who has seen the underlying intelligence, says the memo is highly misleading and a selective mischaracterization of the intel designed to protect the president at any cost.
An Assistant Attorney General, Stephen Boyd (also a Trump appointee), wrote to Nunes saying that releasing the memo (which the DOJ has not seen) would be “extraordinarily reckless.” Boyd pointed out that neither Nunes, nor most of the House Intel Committee, have seen the classified source materials. He also says that releasing the memo would violate the agreement DOJ had with Speaker Ryan about use of the materials when they agreed to provide them.
Senator Mark Warner, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has seen the underlying intelligence behind the memo, warns that it is an effort to impede Mueller’s investigation. From Politico:
“We’re seeing this coordinated effort to try to impede the investigation,” Warner says. The Nunes memo, which is apparently drawn from information contained in the same late-2017 document dumps that have caused the Senate panel to expand its inquiry, is based on “fabrications” and “connecting dots that don’t connect,” Warner asserts.
Nevertheless, the House Intel Committee voted on January 29th to release the memo to the public, without first allowing the DOJ or FBI to share thoughts or concerns with the committee. Nunes only shared the memo with FBI Director Christopher Wray one day before the vote to release it, offering no time for Wray to intervene or share thoughts about the legitimacy of the memo’s assertions.
And as all of this political maneuvering was taking place, an unprecedented army of Russia-connected bots and trolls successfully propagated a #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag on Twitter. The right-wing media has picked up the cry, along with several Republican Congressmen. And it is now reported that Trump wants the memo released.
This is a coordinated, premeditated effort to influence the court of public opinion and provide cover for the President’s next play.
The End Game
The memo’s release is expected to lead to an intense campaign to force out Rosenstein (Twitter bots have already started to push a #FireRosenstein hashtag).
If Rosenstein resigns or is fired, the next in line to take over would be Rachel Brand, who is viewed as more partisan than Rosenstein, but a reasonable professional. Trump however can change the order of the succession (he’s the one who chose Brand as next-in-line) to have someone else succeed Rosenstein.
Brand (or whoever else is selected in her stead) will know upon hiring that unless she prevents Mueller from using evidence gained by surveillance or tracing back to the Steele dossier, she will be subject to intense and ruthless attack by the President of the United States and most of the GOP. She will also know that if she “plays ball”, a grateful GOP will likely reward her handsomely at the end of the investigation.
All signs point to a hindered Mueller investigation moving forward if Rosenstein is fired. This is obstruction of justice. This is Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre.
What Can We Do to Resist?
- Shout: Rosenstein = Mueller! Share this information with as many people as you can. Slam social media. We have to quickly spread word that firing Deputy AG Rosenstein is tantamount to firing Mueller.
- Shout: The Nunes Memo is a GOP Scam! We must educate as many people as possible that the Nunes Memo is a political ploy, as evidenced by the fact that they are circumventing DOJ and sharing it directly with the public. This is a disinformation campaign, pure and simple. The right will quickly embrace the narrative, which will be spewed by FOX and other right-wing media outlets. The Resistance has to shout back even louder.
- March! If you haven’t already, sign up for rapid response marches in your city at http://www.trumpisnotabovethelaw.org. Be ready to pour into the streets. The GOP is engaged in a conspiracy to consolidate power and protect the President of the United States and their party from legal scrutiny. We cannot allow them to win.
Nick Knudsen is a writer and activist based in Portland, Oregon. Find him on Twitter @DemWrite.