Politics

Trump Keeps Rosenstein Despite Reported Recording, Removal Talk

‘I have a very good relationship’ with deputy AG, president says

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves the Capitol on May 19, 2017. He is still in his job despite reported remarks about secretly recording President Trump with the goal of removing him from office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rod Rosenstein, despite reports he discussed secretly taping President Donald Trump with the goal or removing him from office, is still the deputy attorney general after the two men spoke aboard Air Force One.

The senior Justice Department official joined Trump on the executive jet on the way to Orlando, where the president is addressing law enforcement officials. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters traveling with Trump that the duo talked for 30 minutes during the flight to Florida.

Asked if Rosenstein still has the job, Gidley replied, “Yes.”

That means Rosenstein is still overseeing the Justice Department’s Russia election meddling probe that has so riled Trump. For now, at least.

A pool reporter asked Trump how the meeting went as he deplaned in Orlando. “Great,” the president replied.

During his speech, the president said the duo “had a good talk” on the plane. He also mocked the media for being interested in the discussion and its outcome.

Democratic members — and a shrinking list of Republicans — cite Rosenstein’s management of the Russia probe to warn firing him would create a “constitutional crisis.” But Trump had recently said he would prefer keeping Rosenstein in the job, a sentiment he repeated Monday morning

“No, I don’t. No,” he replied on the South Lawn when asked if he has plans to fire the deputy attorney general.

The deputy attorney general and president had a lengthy telephone conversation late last month to discuss a New York Times report about his alleged remarks about taping and removal via the 25th Amendment.

Rosenstein and Trump delayed a planned Sept. 27 one-on-one meeting until Monday to allow Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation process to play out. 

“I actually have a good relationship — other than there’s been no collusion folks, no collusion,” Trump said Monday as he departed the White House, referring to the question of whether his 2016 campaign worked with Russians to interfere in his presidential bid. “I have a very good relationship. We’ll see.”

Trump spoke to reporters as he returned to the White House, saying of the Justice Department: “I’m not making any changes.”

Washington was briefly abuzz on Sept. 24 when Rosenstein headed to the White House to meet with chief of staff John Kelly, but reports that the retired Marine Corps general was handing him a pink slip turned out to be inaccurate. The same day, Trump and Rosenstein spoke by phone while the president was at an United Nations conference in New York.

Rosenstein left the White House with his job that day . As he walked out of the executive mansion that day, Kelly made sure to join him and shook his hand in view of photographers. He survived again on Monday.

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Democrats and some Republican lawmakers have warned Trump for months about firing either Rosenstein or Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Democrats warned doing so would trigger a Constitutional crisis since Mueller had yet to finish his work. They also say terminating either Justice official would be Trump’s opening move toward eventually firing Mueller or shutting down his investigation.

Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., said recently that if Trump fires Rosenstein “for the purpose of protecting himself from the Mueller investigation, that would represent high crimes and misdemeanors.” (Proving anyone’s intent, including Trump’s, could prove tricky, however.)

And House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters late last month that he hoped the deputy AG “stays in place.”

“Any effort to undermine the Mueller investigation will be obstruction of justice,” Hoyer said.

Should Democrats take the House in November’s midterm elections, such talk from a senior Democratic leader could spawn impeachment proceedings. So far, most Republicans are sticking by Trump, but if the party concludes his antics since taking office contributed to the GOP losing the House — and possibly the Senate — then the impeachment math could swing against him.

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But even as Trump has decided to leave Rosenstein in place — for now — the matter of what Rosenstein said and proposed doing likely will remain a political issues heading into the homestretch of the midterms — and beyond.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte says he plans to subpoena the Justice Department for memos Andrew McCabe wrote during his tenure as acting FBI director. The documents reportedly chronicle conversations in which Rosenstein discussed the idea of secretly recording Trump for the purpose of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

Trying to appease conservative House Republicans who have threatened Rosenstein with impeachment proceedings, the deputy AG has agreed to talk to them in a private session.

Other Trump allies in the House are even saying the matter could warrant Congress doing what the president opted against this week.

“We are pushing very hard to make sure that he comes in under oath to Congress and let the American people judge for themselves,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told Fox News late last month. “I can tell you that if he does not, there are a number of us that are standing by really with impeachment documents that say we cannot have this kind of activity continue at DOJ.”

Watch: How and Why Many Key Officials Have Exited the Trump Administration

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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