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Rosenstein Heads To The White House In Wake Of Report He Secretly Recorded Trump

Sep 24, 2018
Originally published on September 24, 2018 12:52 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are following reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is on his way out of the Department of Justice. This comes in the wake of a New York Times report Friday that said Rosenstein discussed secretly recording his conversations with President Trump or getting Cabinet members to remove him using the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is in the studio with us. Carrie, it's important to note this story is moving very quickly. But what can you tell us at this hour?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: We know from a source close to the deputy attorney general that he's been headed to the White House this morning, where he expects to be fired, that he has not resigned. Of course, Rachel, you know this New York Times story - extraordinary story - blockbuster allegations that he discussed recording or wearing a wire on the president after the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey last year, discussed maybe rallying support for the Cabinet to overthrow the president using the 25th Amendment.

Rosenstein on Friday night said he neither pursued nor authorized recording the president, and any suggestion he wanted to overthrow the president is absolutely false. But it touched off this major firestorm. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told interviewers over the weekend that if you don't want to be on the team, maybe you should leave the team. And President Trump at a rally over the weekend talked about removing the lingering stench from the Justice Department.

MARTIN: So there is all this back-and-forth about whether or not Rosenstein has actually offered his resignation, whether he is insisting that the White House fire him. Why does it make a difference?

JOHNSON: It makes a difference because of a law known as the Vacancies Reform Act, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. If Rod Rosenstein resigns, President Trump has the power to appoint an acting deputy attorney general. If Rod Rosenstein is fired, it's a lot murkier. In fact, the former VA secretary, Hank Shulkin (ph), had a similar piece of controversy over his ouster from the VA. And it makes a big difference because ultimately this will determine who has day-to-day control over the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

MARTIN: So can we walk through a couple of those scenarios? Because as you know, Rod Rosenstein has been overseeing the Mueller probe into Russian election interference because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself. So if Rosenstein is out, what happens to the Mueller probe?

JOHNSON: Excellent question. It's right now a little bit unclear. But we do know that Rod Rosenstein, as the acting attorney general for this Russia probe, basically has the authority to approve or deny big steps the Mueller investigation wants to take - big indictments, grand jury testimonies and the like.

MARTIN: Affecting the scope, too.

JOHNSON: The whole scope of the probe. And it seems clear that - right now, it's unclear. But Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, may be next in line to supervise that Mueller probe. Francisco has been on the record in the past opposing a wide-ranging special counsel investigation. So that could be a little controversial. Noel Francisco also worked at a law firm, Jones Day, which has represented the Trump campaign in the past. He may have to recuse himself.

Right now we don't know. I have that question out to DOJ. It has not yet been answered. If Noel Francisco recuses himself, the oversight of the Mueller investigation would pass to Steve Engel, who leads the Office of Legal Counsel at Justice - a longtime civil lawyer, a former Supreme Court clerk, but a guy with no experience as a federal prosecutor.

MARTIN: And at this point, we don't know - when it comes to Congress and taking any action to protect the Mueller probe, those efforts have stalled and haven't gone anywhere at this point.

JOHNSON: They have stalled. We have had bipartisan members of Congress trying to band together and pass legislation to protect the Mueller probe. Those efforts have gone nowhere in part because Senate majority leaders in the Republican Party have said that's not anything to worry about. Well, today's news may make it something to worry about awfully fast.

MARTIN: All right, we will keep following it obviously. Breaking news this morning - we are reporting that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, expects to be fired. NPR's Carrie Johnson is following this. Go to npr.org for updates. Carrie, thank you so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.