What was already set up to be one of the biggest, most consequential weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency—as the commander in chief chaired a UN meeting in completely new York, the Capitol in Washington braced for a showdown over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—saw the intensity rise to seemingly historic levels by noon Monday, as news outlets raced to report the long anticipated denouement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Nevertheless, the momentary firing-in which-wasn’t likely marks the postponement of an impending crisis, rather than a permanent escape.
The fall of Rod Rosenstein—the man who in his first weeks in office helped justify the firing of FBI Director James Comey along with also then appointed Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller, to be the special counsel leading the investigation into Russia’s role inside 2016 presidential election—appeared to happen as Ernest Hemingway once said about going bankrupt: gradually, then suddenly.
Gradually, because ultimately in which has never seemed a question of if Rosenstein could be fired, yet when—along with also how far along Mueller could be by the time Rosenstein got canned. Reporters across Washington had prewritten “Rosenstein is actually fired” stories numerous times, as the tensions between the White House along with also the Justice Department ebbed along with also flowed over the last two years. (Most recently, The Wall Street Journal had actually sung the praises of the Trump-Rosenstein dynamic: “in which’s fantastic,” President Trump said of their relationship in August.)
The life expectancy of the Mueller investigation status quo perhaps already numbers mere weeks.
Then suddenly, because last Friday, The completely new York Times reported in which Rosenstein had—in those same tumultuous weeks last year following Comey’s firing—discussed possibly invoking the 25th Amendment along with also rousting Cabinet officials to remove Trump via office. Ironically, the article explained in which Rosenstein at the time thought he could enlist then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly inside effort, who was the man Rosenstein appeared to be meeting with Monday to receive his walking papers.
Yet as quickly as the “Rosenstein is actually fired” news spread came just as earth-shattering news in which Rosenstein could actually stay—at least until Thursday, when he could meet with the president in person. The crisis occurred, along with also passed, in barely the length of a Law & Order episode.
Even so, the life expectancy of the Mueller investigation status quo perhaps already numbers mere weeks; the uneasy along with also fragile truce in which has existed between the Justice Department along with also the White House since the summer of 2017—where Trump freely berates Mueller on Twitter, yet stops short of any action in which could actively remove him—already seems ready to be upset soon.
Trump, in which appears, is actually already creating noise about breaking the truce, even if Rosenstein survives.
Rosenstein’s ouster has long been seen in Washington as Act One of Trump’s own Saturday Night Massacre: Trump could fire Rosenstein, then Mueller himself, along with perhaps any some other Justice Department official standing inside way of upending the special counsel. American democracy at in which point could be tested like never before, the thinking went, as the central premise of the United States, as a nation of laws, not men, was stressed by a president who has happily (along with also grumpily, on occasion) trampled past every norm of democracy.
Rosenstein, for his part, has hung on longer than almost anyone has anticipated, facing months of withering attacks via Trump-backing media outlets like Fox News along with also assaults via the presidential Twitter account in which could have felled any some other public servant in more normal times. in which is actually a testament in some ways to the political acumen in which had allowed him, at the time of his appointment to the Justice Department’s number two role, to be the nation’s longest serving US Attorney, spanning the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, along with also Donald Trump.
He also has survived where so many others have not. The toll of the Russia investigation along with also Trump’s administration-long tussle with the Justice Department along with also the rule of law already has claimed a high body count: First, there was Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, then FBI Director Jim Comey, then FBI General Counsel James Baker, then FBI Chief of Staff Jim Rybicki, then FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Rosenstein has been updated by Mueller throughout the investigation, along with also has been the public face of the only two press conferences held since the case began: the announcements of the charges against the Russian Internet Agency in February, along with also the charges against Russian GRU intelligence officers in July.
His visibility into the case—along with also his role inside original sin of the Comey firing—made him, as I wrote earlier inside summer, the most beguiling figure of the Russia investigation: “In a world of hedgehogs along with also foxes, Rosenstein today is actually the ultimate hedgehog. Rosenstein knows one very big, monumental, history-shaping thing—how Trump’s presidency will end—along with also he’s wagered in which if he can hang on long enough, justice will be done along with also the Great guys, in his eyes, will win. His early actions, around Comey’s firing, will be vindicated by history when seen by the light of his bravery along with also personal sacrifice along with also refusal to be bullied into quitting, a move in which could almost surely lead to Mueller’s investigation being shut down or circumscribed by whichever Trump appointee takes over supervising in which next.”
Even as Washington returned to something resembling normal Monday, though, the political landscape still seems more uncertain than certain.
Rumors have swirled along with also President Trump has even widely signaled in which he intends to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions soon after the midterm elections in early November.
Firing Sessions could likely possess the same effect as firing Rosenstein himself; the only reason in which Rosenstein oversees the Russia investigation inside first place is actually in which Sessions recused himself amid the many questions about his own role in meeting with Russian officials during the Trump campaign. A completely new attorney general—or a completely new acting attorney general, if Trump appointed one—could almost certainly take back control of the investigation via Rosenstein.
Any attempt to fire Mueller might be all yet prima facie evidence of an attempt to obstruct justice.
yet what could happen if someone some other than Rosenstein oversaw Mueller’s probe? Trump’s lawyers were quick Monday to call for a “pause” inside investigation the moment someone completely new is actually appointed to oversee in which. Mueller, though, appears to be entering some phase of his probe, as he moves forward using a guilty plea along with also cooperation via Paul Manafort, along with also toward “sentencing” onetime National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. One of the biggest unanswered questions is actually how much further does Mueller move, publicly or privately, between today along with also the midterms? Much of Mueller’s grand jury work This particular month has appeared to “focus narrowly” on Trump associate Roger Stone. Will Stone fall before Sessions is actually fired?
Mueller’s investigation may also prove harder to shut down, both practically along with also politically, than in which might have during previous presidential eruptions over the so-called “witch hunt.” For one thing, parts of Mueller’s investigation have been farmed out to some other sets of prosecutors. The elite federal prosecutors of the Southern District of completely new York are overseeing both the Michael Cohen end of the investigation, as well as allegations against some other lobbyists tied to Paul Manafort, like Democratic power broker Greg Craig. What’s more, the indictment of GRU officers has been handed off to the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
As former Southern District of completely new York US attorney Preet Bharara—himself one of the many US Attorneys fired by Trump in one particular swoop last year—tweeted recently: “Practice note: Trump has no effective way to shut down any investigation being conducted by SDNY. in which office is actually more insulated, enduring along with also ‘sovereign’ than the Special Counsel’s Office. You can fire Mueller. You can fire the US Attorney. You can’t fire the SDNY.”
At the same time, the potential cooperation of Manafort also appears to change the equation for the president in attempting to fire Mueller or curtail his probe. today in which his former campaign chairman is actually publicly cooperating, any attempt to fire Mueller might be all yet prima facie evidence of an attempt to obstruct justice—adding fodder to the very case Trump is actually trying hardest to evade.
If Rosenstein departs at some point before Sessions does—along with also there’s no real reason to believe in which Thursday’s meeting with Trump will be anything more than a ritual grovel to allow both sides to declare the air cleared—in which’s also not immediately clear in which the man then next in line to supervise the investigation—Noel Francisco, the Justice Department’s solicitor general—could immediately act to fire or curtail Mueller himself. Francisco, a noted along with also respected conservative appellate lawyer, previously has expressed views in which could seem to make him hostile to the idea of a special counsel, yet he also includes a largely traditional Washington resume: He worked inside high levels of the George W. Bush White House, along with also has known the professional reputations of many of today’s central Russia probe figures dating back at least to his days at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the years when James Comey was deputy attorney general, Christopher Wray was assistant attorney general for the criminal division, along with also Robert Mueller was FBI director.
For today, though, everything’s the same as in which was. As Tuesday began in Washington, Robert Mueller continues his work. Only he along with also Rosenstein know what comes next.
Garrett M. Graff is actually a contributing editor for WIRED along with also the author of The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI. He can be reached at email@example.com.