Rosenstein friends say he won’t be influenced by Trump tweets – Politico
President Donald Trumpâs tweet Friday struck many of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensteinâs friends and colleagues as a bid to get him to drop oversight of the special prosecutor investigation into Trump and his campaignâs contacts with Russian officials, but Rosensteinâs allies insist he wonât buckle under such pressure.
âI think Rodâs going to be able to handle whatever position heâs put in and do what the job calls for. Tweets are not going to change how he approaches something,â said Jan Miller, a former U.S. attorney in Illinois who earlier spent time working with Rosenstein in the Maryland office. âI know it sounds somewhat trite, I suppose, but itâs just the way it is. Heâs going to do what needs to be done.â
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However, other Rosenstein friends noted reports that he complained bitterly to the White House last month when Trump aides said the president fired Comey at Rosenstein’s instigation.
One lawyer who is involved in the case and knows Rosenstein well said the veteran prosecutor is a mix of furious and amazed at Trump’s tweets.
“I think he will hit his breaking point soon with this guy,” said the Rosenstein associate, who asked not to be named.
The president has tweeted repeatedly this week about the investigation, which has expanded to include Trumpâs firing of FBI Director James Comey last month. âI am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,â Trump tweeted Friday morning, apparently referring to Rosenstein and his role in preparing a memo that was used to justify Comeyâs dismissal.
Trumpâs morning tweet reverberated in legal circles, where many viewed it as encouragement that Rosenstein recuse himself from overseeing the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Some said the Twitter message could even be a prelude to Rosensteinâs resignation or firing.
âThe objective may be either forcing him to leave his position or putting the entire investigation under someone other than Rosenstein. That person then using their âindependent judgmentâ removes Mueller,â said Richard Painter, former White House ethics counsel under President George W. Bush. âThat is what Iâm very worried about. … This is a problem. The president is going to try to take advantage of this to put someone in there other than Rosenstein who will try to fire Mueller without any of Trumpâs fingerprints on it.â
Other lawyers said that while Trumpâs tweet contained some dubious factual premises, the president was correct that Rosenstein played a significant part in at least some of the events that Muellerâs team appears to be looking into.
âTrump has a point,â said Kathleen Clark, a top legal ethics expert and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. âIn some ways, this is a savvy tweet. Thereâs at least a partial truth to it and raising questions with the public about Rosenstein undermines the public credibility of the entire endeavor of investigating Trump. However, like a lot of things Trump says, itâs not entirely accurate.â
Clark noted that Rosenstein isnât actually doing the investigating and it is unclear whether Rosenstein told Trump to fire Comey. Rosenstein endorsed the decision, but Trump has said he actually made up his mind to fire Comey before meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
However, Clark and other ethics experts have said Rosenstein may need to recuse himself from some or all of the Mueller probe if it delves into the Comey firing â a topic many lawyers believe Mueller cannot avoid.
âIf reports Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice are true, when there are any reports [from Mueller] at least regarding the firing of Comey â¦ Rosenstein is not going to be able to participate and will have to recuse at that point,â Clark said.
Painter said Rosenstein might be able to retain general authority over Muellerâs probe, but step back from assessing any of the investigative decisions.
âHe shouldnât be involved in any of the substantive decisions about the obstruction of justice part of the probe,â Painter said. Rosenstein âwas used to obstruct. Heâs a material witness. I donât think he engaged in conduct sufficiently serious that he could be guilty of obstruction, but itâs close enough that he shouldnât be involved.â
Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined to comment on Trumpâs tweet. He said Rosenstein isnât planning to recuse himself from the matters Mueller is probing, but also wonât rule out doing so.
âAs the deputy attorney general has said numerous times, if there comes a point when he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed,â Prior said.
Jim Trusty, a former head of the Justice Departmentâs organized crime division who also worked with Rosenstein in the U.S. attorneyâs office in Maryland, said he doesnât see the tweet as bolstering the case for Rosenstein to bow out.
âTo me a tweet like that doesnât rise to the level of implicating Rodâs impartiality,â said the ex-prosecutor, now a partner at Ifrah Law in Washington. âI donât view that as something that could lead or should lead to Rod bowing out of the investigation. … I donât think that tweet puts us there.â
Trust added: âIf anyone is able to weather the storm of controversy, opinion, theories and accusations, itâs going to be Rod.â
Trumpâs tweet about Rosenstein came just hours after the deputy attorney general released a highly unusual statement Thursday night, warning the public not to trust published reports that rely on anonymous sources.
âAmericans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous âofficials,â particularly when they do not identify the country â let alone the branch or agency of government â with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated,â Rosenstein said. âAmericans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.â
The deputy AGâs statement did not refer to any specific reports, but appeared to be prompted by a Washington Post report saying Muellerâs probe was looking into whether Trump obstructed justice and another that investigators are interested in Trumpâs son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner.
One curious aspect of Rosensteinâs statement is that he has indicated that he hasnât spoken to Mueller since appointing him last month. A Justice Department official said that again Friday, suggesting that while Rosenstein knows what the FBI was looking at a month ago, he doesnât have much current insight into what Mueller is focusing on.
Some analysts said Rosensteinâs statement seemed ill-advised because he seemed to be echoing White House talking points about âfake newsâ and anonymous sources just at a time when the deputy attorney general is trying to insist that heâs making decisions without political interference.
An official at the Justice Department â the U.S. Justice Department, to be clear â said Rosenstein acted without prodding or direction from Trump or the White House.
âThis was all Rod. He just decided he needed to do it,â said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
âIâm puzzled by it,â Clark said of Rosensteinâs statement. âIt seems Rosenstein is responding to pressure. The specific response here is relatively innocuous, but it wouldnât be a good sign if the deputy attorney general is responding to pressure from the White House, just in general. â¦ I do wonder what kind of advice heâs getting on messaging.â
Rosensteinâs friends expressed some exasperation with his predicament, saying that itâs increasingly clear that heâs going to be criticized whatever he does.
âTo me, itâs kind of exhibit No. 1042 showing that Rod has the ultimate thankless task,â Trusty said.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.