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White House is prepping an effort to undermine Rosenstein

The White House is preparing talking points designed to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's credibilit...

Posted: Apr 13, 2018 10:17 AM
Updated: Apr 13, 2018 10:17 AM

The White House is preparing talking points designed to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's credibility, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The plan calls on President Donald Trump's allies to cast Rosenstein as too conflicted to fairly oversee the Russia investigation.

The talking points are still in their preliminary form, and not yet finalized, people familiar with their preparation said. The White House and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Already, a number of Trump's associates have called for Rosenstein's firing in appearances on television and in public remarks over the past few days, but not all of them did so at the request of the White House.

As special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump encroaches further into the President's inner circle, his allies outside the White House are ramping up their efforts both to defend him and to encourage a tougher stance against a probe they claim has dramatically overstepped its bounds. FBI agents relied on search warrants that had been executed by the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York in conducting the raid. They obtained the warrants after receiving a referral from Mueller's office.

Firing Rosenstein or Mueller himself could inject new turbulence into Trump's presidency. Legal experts, Democrats and some Republicans have said it could prompt a constitutional crisis. It would almost certainly derail policy efforts as Trump works to enact his agenda ahead of congressional elections in November.

Weighing Rosenstein's fate

Efforts to undermine Rosenstein in the media come as the President is weighing whether to fire the top official overseeing the Russia investigation.

Trump is still livid about the raid on his private attorney Michael Cohen -- "He'll be pissed about it until he dies," another source said -- and he and his allies are increasingly convinced that Mueller and Rosenstein have overstepped their bounds.

One area of conflict the White House wants its surrogates to highlight: Rosenstein's role as a key witness to the Comey firing, sources said. Rosenstein wrote the memo justifying Comey's dismissal. It centered on his conduct in investigating Hillary Clinton's use of private email.

In a somewhat illogical pairing, the White House is also looking for Trump's allies to cast Rosenstein and Comey as close colleagues -- even though Rosenstein helped provide the basis for Comey's firing.

The White House is hoping Trump's defenders will use the notion that Comey and Rosenstein are close to argue that Rosenstein is approving an ever-expanding investigation against Trump and his associates as retribution.

"It's payback for the President firing one of his best friends," a source said.

A source close to Rosenstein noted, however, that the two men are not friends.

A White House official said the President has been particularly galled by a recently disclosed memo Rosenstein wrote in August authorizing Mueller to investigate allegations that Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was "colluding with Russian government officials" to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

The President and some of his aides were upset Rosenstein didn't give the White House a heads up about the additional memo, according to a person familiar with the matter. As officials seek to learn what was included in the memo's redactions, they are building a case against Rosenstein that he should have recused himself from the probe in the first place.

That view has been echoed by a key Trump legal defender, Alan Dershowitz, who has insisted Rosenstein cannot oversee an investigation in which he may himself be a witness.

While many of Trump's friends and staffers have discouraged him from firing anyone in the past, that has shifted in the wake of the Cohen raid, even though it was carried out by the Southern District of New York and not Mueller's team.

Nevertheless, multiple Trump allies have agreed with the President's thinking that Mueller has overstepped his mandate and that someone should be held accountable.

Public show of force

The animosity toward Rosenstein that has emerged on Capitol Hill, including from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, could also make the President feel as those he has more cover to fire Rosenstein, a source said.

Trump himself has remained preoccupied with the Russia investigation, even as his administration weighs launching strikes in Syria in response to a chemical gas attack. Twelve minutes before Sean Hannity was set to hit the airwaves on Wednesday, his most powerful regular viewer seemed to know what was in store.

"Big show tonight on @seanhannity!" Trump wrote on Twitter. "9:00 P.M. on @FoxNews."

What followed was a nearly hour-long screed on the swirl of perceived Justice Department offenses against Trump and a preemptive strike against James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired who embarks next week on a book tour.

Thirty minutes into the television program that Trump promoted on Wednesday, attorney Joseph DiGenova -- who nearly joined Trump's legal team before withdrawing because of conflicts -- barked his instructions.

"Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised and conflicted that he can no longer serve as deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions now has an obligation to the President of the United States to fire Rod Rostenstein," he said, his voice raised in anger.

He wasn't alone. Earlier on Fox, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich described Rosenstein as ineffective at keeping Mueller within bounds.

"The fact is Rod Rosenstein has not done his job. He has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity," Gingrich declared on "Fox and Friends," the regular soundtrack of Trump's early mornings. "The fact is, this is a left-wing bureaucracy at Justice. It is anti-Trump. It is anti-Republican."

Across the Atlantic, one of Trump's former campaign aides was espousing the same view during a Wall Street Journal panel in London. Citing, among other things, Rosenstein's authorization of FBI raids on the office and hotel room of Trump's attorney Michael Cohen, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski declared there was cause for dismissal.

"I think any or all of those are justification for firing the deputy attorney general," he said.

And Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, has begun advocating for Rosenstein's firing in conversations with Trump allies and advisers, according to people familiar with his efforts, who also say Bannon is warning that Trump's legal team is woefully outmatched by Mueller's team.

The Washington Post also first reported on Wednesday that Bannon was calling on Trump to fire the White House attorney assigned to the Mueller probe, Ty Cobb. Trump dismissed that suggestion in a tweet on Thursday.

"I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (Unlike the Clintons!)," Trump wrote. "I have full confidence in Ty Cobb, my Special Counsel, and have been fully advised throughout each phase of this process."

Bannon's campaign hasn't necessarily included direct conversations with Trump himself. But his views reflect a concerted effort by Trump's allies to convince the President that harsher action is necessary to short circuit the Russia probe.

An administration official says all of the outside voices calling for Rosenstein's firing have been compiled and given to the president, though much of the action has come on the airwaves of Fox News, which Trump views regularly.

Political fallout

Trump has considered firing Mueller and Rosenstein at various points over the past year, but has stopped short of taking such drastic steps. He's been advised by Republican lawmakers and other allies that the political fallout of such a move could prove devastating for his agenda.

He's also recalled another firing that proved to have damaging consequences: it was his firing of James Comey last year that resulted in the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.

Trump on Thursday pushed back on reports he's considered firing Mueller, including a story this week that he'd threatened to dismiss the special counsel in December.

"If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him. Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!" he wrote.

That pushback aside, Trump continues to consider taking action to short-circuit the Russia probe, including firing Rosenstein, CNN has reported. Officials say if Trump acts, Rosenstein is his most likely target, but it's unclear whether even such a dramatic firing like this would be enough to satisfy the President.

Lawmakers have warned such a step could prove politically disastrous, though the topic did not arise during a Wednesday dinner with top Republican leaders, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

On Thursday, a top Republican took his warnings against firing Mueller public.

"Anyone advising the President -- in public or over the airwaves -- to fire Bob Mueller does not have the President or the nation's best interest at heart," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrote on Twitter. "Full stop."

CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 947918

Reported Deaths: 15377
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1291181990
Lake635721103
Allen53899761
Hamilton44082449
St. Joseph42122590
Elkhart33803491
Vanderburgh30574449
Tippecanoe26915251
Johnson23727418
Hendricks22410342
Porter21832347
Clark17562231
Madison17492385
Vigo16302285
Monroe14545191
LaPorte14389239
Delaware14183222
Howard13971273
Kosciusko11498135
Hancock10935166
Warrick10737178
Bartholomew10635170
Floyd10514208
Wayne10077226
Grant9213204
Morgan8928160
Boone8463111
Dubois7791123
Dearborn769490
Henry7691133
Noble7466101
Marshall7409128
Cass7219118
Lawrence7026153
Shelby6647111
Jackson661386
Gibson6190107
Harrison609386
Huntington604495
Montgomery5853105
DeKalb581091
Knox5535104
Miami548888
Putnam543268
Clinton537465
Whitley529354
Steuben501768
Wabash488692
Jasper483861
Jefferson474492
Ripley457777
Adams446068
Daviess4231108
Scott409165
Clay394957
White393858
Greene393392
Wells389884
Decatur388797
Fayette378578
Posey362341
Jennings356056
Washington334747
LaGrange325175
Spencer321136
Fountain318455
Randolph317190
Sullivan309449
Owen287064
Starke282864
Fulton280454
Orange277859
Jay257038
Perry254152
Carroll245229
Franklin242838
Rush237030
Vermillion235050
Parke221420
Tipton212055
Pike211740
Blackford170534
Pulaski168551
Crawford147318
Newton145845
Benton143916
Brown135846
Martin130217
Switzerland126910
Warren115616
Union98511
Ohio80511
Unassigned0482

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1385749

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1538881574
Cuyahoga1358332341
Hamilton987081326
Montgomery679671161
Summit568451051
Lucas51531869
Butler48000663
Stark42232983
Lorain32046539
Warren30404338
Mahoning27463643
Clermont25990297
Lake24809422
Delaware22566147
Licking20767246
Fairfield20730223
Greene20611275
Trumbull20257516
Medina20074290
Clark18170332
Richland16680236
Portage16389231
Wood15926209
Allen14333261
Miami14018261
Muskingum12927155
Wayne12185244
Columbiana11980242
Tuscarawas11204271
Marion10908150
Pickaway10606129
Scioto10531127
Erie9864171
Ross9612177
Lawrence8934125
Hancock8603143
Ashtabula8474187
Geauga8251156
Belmont8236188
Jefferson7691175
Huron7537131
Union742651
Washington7380126
Athens709365
Sandusky6963135
Darke6875137
Knox6812122
Seneca6519137
Ashland6051115
Auglaize595388
Shelby5820104
Brown575372
Mercer565190
Defiance5564101
Crawford5563117
Madison551071
Highland549282
Fulton542583
Clinton533781
Logan518687
Preble5102111
Putnam4900107
Guernsey484364
Williams468982
Perry462254
Champaign454264
Ottawa442484
Jackson434563
Pike398345
Morrow396451
Coshocton391969
Fayette383753
Adams369275
Hardin366170
Gallia355458
Holmes3321111
Henry329869
Van Wert320771
Hocking310770
Wyandot285458
Carroll266352
Paulding246443
Meigs221742
Monroe192749
Noble174142
Morgan170029
Harrison160741
Vinton141319
Unassigned05
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