If there is anything President Donald Trump believes about Russia and the 2016 presidential race, it's that there was no collusion between any member of his campaign and Russian intelligence officials.
Asked in January about the possibility of sitting down with special counsel Bob Mueller to discuss Russia and the election, Trump unleashed this gem (bolding is mine):
"There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office, trying to say this that -- but bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion."
In short: No collusion. In long: No collusion.
Trump has called Mueller's exploration of possible collusion with the Russians a "witch hunt" and a "hoax." It's part of a broader PR campaign pursued by the President, his legal team and his loyalists to cast the special counsel investigation as a partisan endeavor, a wild goose chase that will end badly.
Except that we learned late Monday night that the person charging Mueller with pursuing collusion between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russia is none other than deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Plot twist! Bet you didn't see that coming!
"Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told special counsel Robert Mueller in a classified August 2, 2017, memo that he should investigate allegations that President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was "colluding with Russian government officials" to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors in the Russia probe revealed late Monday night.
"Mueller was also empowered by Rosenstein to investigate Manafort's payments from Ukrainian politicians, a cornerstone of the Trump adviser's decades-long lobbying career that has resulted in several financial criminal charges so far."
President Trump, the call is coming from inside the house!
Yes, Trump's relationship with his Justice Department has long been contentious. The President has made no secret of his disdain and dislike for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions' original sin in Trump's eyes was recusing himself from the Russian investigation in the first place, a decision that put Rosenstein in charge.
Rosenstein, of course, was once in Trump's very good graces. Remember that it was Rosenstein's memo outlining how then-FBI Director James Comey had committed a fireable offense during the 2016 campaign that Trump and White House aides used initially to justify his decision to get rid of Comey.
"Director Comey was very unpopular with most people," said Trump in May 2017. "I actually thought when I made that decision -- and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein."
Within a month, of course, Trump was expressing exasperation with Rosenstein. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!," he tweeted in June 2017. "Witch Hunt."
The problem for Trump as it relates to Rosenstein is that he can't have his cake and eat it too. Rosenstein can't be both the shining moral beacon protecting the right way of doing things in law enforcement and also a Democratic plant designed to undermine Trump's presidency.
There's another problem too: The fact that Rosenstein was nominated by the Trump administration to serve in his current role. Also, the fact that he was chosen as a US attorney by Republican President George W. Bush. And here's one more fact for you: Vice President Mike Pence called Rosenstein "a man of extraordinary independence and integrity ... and great character."
Rosenstein is the same guy who expressly told Mueller -- a former FBI chief first appointed to that role by, wait for it, George W. Bush -- that looking into whether Manafort colluded with the Russians was expressly part of his special counsel mandate.
(Nota bene: The idea pushed by Trump that Manafort was only tangentially involved in his campaign -- and for a short period of time -- is simply wrong. Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman from the critical final days of the primary fight until and through the GOP convention.)
Everyone involved in this story -- Sessions, Rosenstein and Mueller -- are either Republicans or people picked by Republicans for their jobs. Those are facts.
So, every time Trump calls the Mueller probe a "witch hunt" or a "hoax" or seeks to dismiss the idea of collusion as outside of the scope of Mueller's investigation, remember this: The deputy attorney general in his own administration disagrees.