Hurricane Michael showed up precisely on time this week (I saw him myself, and witnessed his devastation), but someone else failed to appear as scheduled.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Wouldn’t it be great if Rosenstein had been the one who kept his appointment and Michael had been the one who didn't?
But Rosenstein’s testimony before Congress won’t be happening, at least without a subpoena. He was supposed to come in and answer questions about allegations that he spoke seriously about wearing a wire to secretly record Trump and then rally Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the President from office. James Baker, speaking in a closed-door meeting with congressional committees last week, made it clear that the conversations about this plan seemed absolutely serious, not “joking” as Rosenstein has claimed. Baker’s colleagues, then-deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe (who is still being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office) and his legal assistant Lisa Page, had both told told him they took Rosenstein seriously.
This is a stunning allegation, one that Rosenstein surely would want to set straight, unless it’s true. Rosenstein had reportedly been expected on Thursday, but no longer. Come on –- formal testimony under oath, with every word transcribed? He didn’t agree to that! He’d assumed this was just a casual get-together over coffee, with perhaps a few notes taken but no verbatim record and certainly no swearing in.
An aide for the committee told the Washington Examiner that a date had never “officially” been set, as details were still being worked out. But it was certainly the understanding of Rep. Matt Gaetz that the interview would be Thursday; he flew to Washington from Florida just for the occasion. “Chairman Goodlatte has been playing hide-and-seek with some of us on the interview scheduling for several weeks now,” he tweeted. “You’d think that after the former FBI top lawyer said the current deputy attorney general was serious about overthrowing the President that we might issue a subpoena...hold a hearing...conduct oversight...actually do our job. That would be a refreshing change for Congress.”
So far, Rosenstein has only issued a statement denying the allegations, which were first reported in The New York Times: “I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false.”
Okay, now let’s hear that under oath. With follow-up questions.
North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, who leads the House Freedom Caucus, responded firmly. “The choice before [the Justice Department] is clear: show up, answer questions, and be a part of the solution; or refuse transparency and continue being part of the cover up,” he said in a statement. “At this point, if the deputy attorney general will not show up voluntarily, it is abundantly clear we need to subpoena him. Failure to compel testimony would amount to a dereliction of duty on the part of Congress.”
Likewise, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs accused Rosenstein of stonewalling and called for a subpoena. “His obstinance should not be rewarded with more delays,” he said.
“He owes us answers,” said the equally frustrated Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Wednesday. “He’s not coming tomorrow, which I think should be very telling...He needs to testify under oath.”
But Trump seemed easygoing about the whole thing. (This was a change in tone from his reaction to the news last week, in which he referred to the “lingering stench” at the FBI and Justice Department.) “I’m a little surprised that Rod wouldn’t do it,” he said on FOX & Friends Wednesday. Trump didn’t put himself in the middle of the dispute but did say he and Rosenstein discussed the allegations during their in-flight meeting on Air Force One. “He mentioned certain things to me that you know are very positive about that event,” Trump said. “I would imagine you would want to put that down. And, frankly, whether you were under oath or not shouldn’t matter. But he mentioned things to me that I think it would be fine for him to testify.”
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani underplayed it as well, noting to FOX News that Rosenstein had told Trump his comments were “sarcastic.” He said Trump didn’t think Rosenstein had gone so far as to plot to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Curious. We’ve got a significant discrepancy between Rosenstein’s story and the one told by James Baker under oath. If there was a fly on the wall listening to the conversation between Trump and Rosenstein aboard Air Force One, I sure wish the Senate Judiciary Committee would find that fly and subpoena him. On the other hand, Trump’s cavalier reaction supports my previously expressed theory that the President already knows plenty about all this and is satisfied that it will come out, so he’s going to sit back (at least till after the midterm elections), pop some popcorn and watch the show.
There does appear to be animosity between Rosenstein and McCabe, with the Washington Post reporting Wednesday that in a meeting with Trump in May of 2017, right before Mueller was appointed, each called for the other to recuse himself from the Russia probe. (My thought: they were both right!) One reason they’re taking Baker’s testimony seriously is that it’s from the days right after Trump had fired Comey, when tensions ran high and they thought Trump’s motivation was to obstruct justice. Never mind that Trump has most emphatically NOT done that, but has instead taken his attorneys’ advice to heart and stepped back to let everything play out.
Baker reportedly testified that the idea was quickly dismissed as implausible and never pursued, according to one source for CNN (for what that’s worth). That same source said another person in the room besides McCabe and Page heard Rosenstein’s remarks: then-associate deputy Attorney General Scott Schools. That’s a new name to those of us following this story; Schools has not yet spoken with Capitol Hill investigators, but it may be assumed that his name will come up again. As for Page, she reportedly wasn’t asked about this during her testimony earlier this year; questions mostly focused on James Comey, Peter Strzok and McCabe at that time.
Some other potentially explosive interviews have been in the works, both involving the “opposition research” company hired by the DNC and lawyers for Hillary to “find” whatever they could use to smear candidate (and, later, President) Donald Trump. Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson was scheduled to testify this coming Tuesday after being subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee, but has refused to cooperate in a letter sent by his attorney, which says he will "instead invoke his constitutional rights not to testify under the 1st and 5th Amendments of the Constitution.” The stated reasoning is laughably bogus; take a look if you care to.
Again, wouldn’t it have been nice for Glenn Simpson to show up as scheduled and for Hurricane Michael to have not?
Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, wife of then-DOJ top official Bruce Ohr, is scheduled to appear next Friday. At this writing, as far as I can tell, the interview with Ohr is still on, but who knows what will happen between now and then?
In more unintentional humor, Sen. Chuck Schumer has issued a statement on Rosenstein. “This story must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in order to install an official who will allow the President to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation,” he said. “Generals Kelly, Mattis, and numerous other White House and cabinet officials have been reported to say critical things of the President without being fired.” Wow, where to start? How about this: Did any of THOSE officials perhaps discuss a plan to unseat the President and then refuse to talk to Congress about it? I don’t think so.
Of course, Schumer would like nothing better than for the President to fire Rosenstein. And Trump knows it. No wonder he’s acting like he simply doesn’t care. He’ll deal with all of this in due time.