In a move lawmakers from both parties warn could trigger a constitutional crisis, CNN reported late Tuesday that President Donald Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Trump was visibly agitated Monday evening as he lashed out after a federal raid of the office and temporary residence of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
The idea behind firing Rosenstein — who is overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russia’s 2016 election meddling, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and whether the president obstructed justice — is to install an official who will manage Mueller with limits on the scope of his investigation, CNN reported.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said Monday evening, after reportedly spending most of the afternoon watching cable news coverage of the raid. “It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
The president was asked by a reporter why he didn’t just fire Mueller, given his strong opinions about the investigation.
“We’ll see what happens. But I think it’s really a sad situation when you look at what happened,” Trump responded. “And many people have said, ‘You should fire him.’” He went on to say he “did the right thing” by firing FBI Director James B. Comey last year because “all of the things that he’s done and the lies.”
Trump has admitted that halting the Russia probe was on his mind as he considered firing Comey. Firing Mueller was something of a last straw for Justice Department officials, who decided to hire the former FBI director to oversee the Russia investigation.
On Tuesday, Democratic members including Senate Judiciary member Richard Blumenthal called Trump “unhinged” in his Monday rant and expressed concern he might fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rosenstein and Mueller. Some GOP senators agreed; others, like early Trump backer David Perdue of Georgia, said the outburst reveals a president frustrated by an out-of-control probe.
Trump “certainly believes” he has the legal authority to fire Mueller, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.
While declining to comment on Trump’s next steps, she cryptically told reporters that White House officials have been advised by unnamed figures that the president had the legal authority to fire a special counsel.
Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York reportedly over fears he would be disloyal and whose successor carried out the Cohen raid, told CNN on Tuesday evening the special counsel statue does not give the president power to terminate Mueller.
But a sitting president can fire a deputy attorney general, putting Rosenstein in play.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley told Fox Business on Tuesday that it would be “suicide” if Trump fired Mueller. Democrats said as much, with Virginia Sen Tim Kaine, his party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee, telling Roll Call multiple DOJ terminations would be akin to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate probe that eventually led to his resignation.
But there was no consensus on Capitol Hill on what would happen if Trump limited his actions to Rosenstein. To that end, however, CNN reported multiple sources questioning if that firing alone would assuage an irate president.