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Rod Rosenstein: Russia inquiry chief set for showdown with Trump

PRESIDENT Donald Trump will meet later this week with Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, the White House said on Monday amid indications that Mr Rosenstein was about to lose his job.

The meeting will be on Thursday, said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That’s the same day as an extraordinary Senate hearing that is to feature Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.

Any termination or resignation would have immediate implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign before the 2016 election.

Mr Rosenstein appointed Mr Mueller and oversees his investigation.

media_cameraDeputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (C) listens as Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh (L) appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

Mr Rosenstein and Mr Trump, who is in New York for a UN meeting, had an extended conversation to discuss recent news stories about negative comments Mr Rosenstein is reported to have made last year about the president, Ms Sanders said.

The deputy Attorney-General was reported as having discussed possibly secretly recording the president and invoking the Constitution to have the Cabinet remove him from office.

Mr Rosenstein expected to be fired on Monday as he headed to the White House for a national security meeting on opioid abuse, according to a person familiar with the situation. But he left with no action taken, and the White House statement suggested he may be in his job for at least several more days.

“At the request of Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories,” Ms Sanders said in a statement.

media_cameraDonald Trump attends a meeting on the global drug problem at the United Nations in New York. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

“Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington, DC.”

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the highest-ranking Senate confirmed official below Mr Rosenstein in the Justice Department, would take control of the Mueller investigation. A spokesman for Mr Mueller declined to comment.

The reports about Mr Rosenstein add to the turmoil roiling the administration, just six weeks before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake.

media_cameraFormer FBI acting director Andrew McCabe was dumped by Donald Trump. Picture: AP
media_cameraFormer FBI Director James Comey was another one who got the boot. Picture: AFP

In addition to dealing with the Mueller investigation, the White House is also struggling to win confirmation of its Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.

Mr Trump had previously floated the idea of firing Mr Rosenstein in April after FBI raids of the office and home of the president’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who has since pleaded guilty to several felonies and taken part in interviews with Mr Mueller’s team.

But the latest move comes after a New York Times report of Mr Rosenstein comments in May 2017.

That report and an unsigned opinion piece by a senior official in the Republican administration played to some of the president’s concerns about a secret “Deep State” trying to undermine him from within the government.

media_cameraRod Rosenstein put Robert Mueller (above) in charge of the Russia investigation. Picture: AFP

The administration official, whom Mr Trump has called for a federal investigation to unmask, wrote that there was a group of officials working to safeguard the country from the president’s most dangerous impulses. And Mr Trump’s behaviour had prompted “whispers” in the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, a move that was backed away from due to concerns it would “precipitate a constitutional crisis,” the writer said.

In Rosenstein’s case, he has said that the Times report was inaccurate and was based on “biased” anonymous sources “advancing their own personal agenda.”

“Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment,” Mr Rosenstein said.

The Justice Department also released a statement from a person who said Mr Rosenstein’s recording comment was meant sarcastically.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is pushing forward in the Russia probe, but some fear the investigation will influence the midterms. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains why. Photo: Getty

Will Mueller Finish His Investigation Before or After the Midterms?

If Mr Rosenstein were to resign instead of being fired, it would allow the White House to use the Vacancies Reform Act to fill his role. The federal provision allows the president to circumvent the existing agency line of succession in most instances. But experts doubt it can be applied when the president creates the vacancy, by firing the office holder.

As of Sunday, Mr Trump said he had not decided what to do about Mr Rosenstein. He angrily asked confidants, both inside and outside the White House, how to respond. He received mixed messages. Some urged him to fire Mr Rosenstein. Others suggested restraint while seeing if the report was incorrect or if it was planted by some adversary.

Congressional Republicans, Democrats and some Trump aides have warned for months that the president shouldn’t fire Mr Rosenstein, saying such a move could lead to impeachment proceedings if the Democrats retake the House in the upcoming midterms.

media_cameraDonald Trump and Rod Rosenstein have never really seen eye-to-eye. Picture: AFP

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose private memos document comments made by Mr Rosenstein, said on Monday he was concerned that a Rosenstein departure would put the investigation at risk.

“There is nothing more important to the integrity of law enforcement and the rule of law than protecting the investigation of special counsel Mueller,” Mr McCabe said in a statement. “I sacrificed personally and professionally to help put the investigation on a proper course and subsequently made every effort to protect it.”

Mr Rosenstein appointed Mr Mueller in May of last year after Jeff Sessions, who ordinarily would have overseen the investigation, recused himself because of his close involvement in the Trump campaign.

media_cameraDonald Trump has lashed out at both Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. Picture: AFP

Those developments came one week after Mr Rosenstein laid the groundwork for the firing of Comey by writing a memo that criticised Comey’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

The White House initially held up that memo as justification for Mr Comey’s firing, though Mr Trump himself has said he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he made his move.

As deputy Attorney-General, Mr Rosenstein has made two public announcements of indictments brought by the special counsel — one against Russians accused of hacking into Democratic email accounts, the other against Russians accused of running a social media troll farm to sway public opinion.

Originally published as Russia probe chief ‘expects to be fired’

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