All The President's Lawyers: WTF Is Going On With Rod Rosenstein?

Rod Rosenstein has been a bad, bad boy! Have we mentioned that Donald Trump's superpower is a force field that melts the brain of every lawyer that comes near him? WE HAVE! And we were right! The guy is like freaking lawyer kryptonite!

Yesterday's blockbuster New York Times article paints a vivid picture of Emperor Dementia screaming at his staff that the DOJ wasn't protecting him in the Russia investigation. Comey wouldn't swear a loyalty oath, drop the Flynn prosecution, or clear Trump in his Congressional testimony. Sessions had recused himself, despite the president's aggressive lobbying. And those pesky intelligence agencies kept saying RUSSIA and not SOME 400LB DUDE ON A BED. So unfair! But Sessions, ever the loyal house elf, was doing his part to undermine public confidence in James Comey.

Two days after Mr. Comey’s testimony, an aide to Mr. Sessions approached a Capitol Hill staff member asking whether the staffer had any derogatory information about the F.B.I. director. The attorney general wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the episode did not occur. “This did not happen and would not happen,” said the spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores. “Plain and simple.”

Okay, lady. We must have been imagining eleventy-million Fox and WSJ stories sliming the FBI for being #TeamHillary. But back to Rosenstein, who seems to have been actively participating in the campaign to remove Comey.

Earlier that day, Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had pulled one of Mr. McGahn’s deputies aside after a meeting at the Justice Department. Mr. Rosenstein told the aide that top White House and Justice Department lawyers needed to discuss Mr. Comey’s future. It is unclear whether this conversation was related to the effort to dig up dirt on Mr. Comey.

The same day that Sessions puts out feelers for dirt on Comey, Rosenstein is huddled up with McGahn's deputy "to discuss Mr. Comey's future"? That's mighty coincidental! And in another amazing coincidence, one of McGahn's deputies had deliberately misled the president by telling him that he could only fire Comey for cause.

Longstanding analysis of presidential power says that the president, as the head of the executive branch, does not need grounds to fire the F.B.I. director. Mr. [Uttam] Dhillon, a veteran Justice Department lawyer before joining the Trump White House, assigned a junior lawyer to examine this issue. That lawyer determined that the F.B.I. director was no different than any other employee in the executive branch, and that there was nothing prohibiting the president from firing him.

But Mr. Dhillon, who had earlier told Mr. Trump that he needed cause to fire Mr. Comey, never corrected the record, withholding the conclusions of his research.

So over the three months that Trump was howling for Comey's head, neither McGahn nor Rosenstein told the President that he could just get rid of the FBI director any time he wanted to? REALLY??? We're going to go out on a limb and guess that they knew about Dhillon's little fib, and they agreed to just let it lie.

But because he was under the mistaken impression that he had to come up with a reason to axe James Comey, Trump did some huddling of his own with Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner. After a weekend in New Jersey with Dumb and Dumber, the president assembled all his minions for a reading of his Extra Special James Comey You're Fired Memo.

In interviews with The Times, White House officials have said the letter contained no references to Russia or the F.B.I.’s investigation. According to two people who have read it, however, the letter’s first sentence said the Russia investigation had been “fabricated and politically motivated.”

WHAAAAA??? You mean Mike Pence, who went on television and swore on Baby Jesus's holy name that Comey's firing had nothing at all to do with Russia, was LYING? We are ... not shocked, since we told you that in September. But we are kind of shocked about Rosenstein, TBH.

On Monday, May 8, Mr. Trump met with Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein to discuss firing Mr. Comey, and Mr. Rosenstein agreed to write his own memo outlining why Mr. Comey should be fired. Before writing it, he took a copy of the letter that Mr. Trump and Mr. Miller had drafted during the weekend in Bedminster.

So Rod Rosenstein, a career lawyer, took the evidence that Trump was getting rid of James Comey for the express purpose of ending the Russia investigation (ALLEGEDLY), put it in his pocket, and then drafted a memo saying that Comey had to go for being SO MEAN to Hillary Clinton?

IS THAT WRONG??? (Spoiler Alert: IT IS.) But don't take our word for it -- here's Jack Goldsmith, who worked for the Justice Department and Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush, writing for Lawfare.

In short, before the Schmidt story, we knew that Rosenstein was intimately involved in the president’s decision to fire Comey. Rosenstein’s memo was used as a pretext to fire Comey; Rosenstein knew that the president wanted to fire Comey; and he read the Bedminster draft before he wrote his own memorandum.

In this light, it has been very puzzling for a while why Rosenstein does not have a conflict of interest in the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported unequivocally that Mueller’s investigation includes “whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice,” including, as a central issue, in his firing of Comey. Rosenstein was in the middle of that firing. He possesses information about the president’s beliefs and motives in firing Comey, and quite possibly a personal interest in how those beliefs and motives are construed, since he appeared to many to have been used by the president (and was reportedly very angry about it). Rosenstein would thus would very likely be a fact witness in any obstruction inquiry in connection with the Comey firing. It is hard to understand why he did not have a conflict of interest the moment Mueller’s investigation turned to obstruction in the firing of Comey.

So why the hell isn't Rosenstein recused? Was he trying to help the president obstruct justice?

Did he legitimately think that Comey was a loose cannon who had it in for Hillary Clinton? This shit is weird! AND DANGEROUS. Because, whatever his apparent conflicts, Rosenstein seems to be allowing Mueller to proceed unhampered. But GOP congressmen have started to call for Jeff Sessions's resignation, which would leave Trump free to appoint a new, non-recused attorney general. And then they can get Mike Pompeo or whatever hack they stick in there to fire Robert Mueller or restrict his investigation so as to effectively kill it.

Like we said, it's fucking dangerous!

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[NYTimes / Lawfare]

Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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