As the stakes of the FBI investigations surrounding the president get increasingly higher, White House officials and allies have been going public with their grievances against a key player in the FBI. Rod Rosenstein, as deputy attorney general of the FBI, holds a ticket to the agency's investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election as well as alleged pre-election payoffs by the Trump campaign. President Donald Trump has in recent days mentioned the idea of dismissing him. But can Trump fire Rosenstein? Here's what that scenario might look like.
To recap, FBI Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been heading the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 election since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey last May. Mueller's investigation has become a sweeping probe, proving to leave no rock unturned as it has increasingly inched closer towards Trump himself. Already, Mueller has indicted 19 businesses and individuals in his investigative process, and has crossed the "red line" Trump defined in a New York Times interview last year by probing into his personal business.
Rosenstein, as the DAG for the Department of Justice (DOJ), is second-in-command after Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Atlantic reports that while Trump has long mentioned the idea of firing Mueller, he can't do so himself, given department regulations.
In fact, there isn't much consensus over whether Trump does in fact have the authority to fire Mueller, but most experts agree it would be almost-certain political suicide, setting the president up for an obstruction-of-justice charge. Given that Rosenstein oversees Mueller, he'd have to do the the firing himself, but that's not something this particular DAG seems inclined to do. However, sacking Rosenstein could give the president a workaround for doing so or otherwise taking actions to interfere in the investigation.
PolitiFact reports that if Rosenstein is himself fired, authority would move down the line of succession to Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, one of Trump's allies, thanks to the vacancy caused by the associate AG's exit earlier this year. But as Politico points out, there are plenty of others Trump might appoint to take Rosenstein's place.
Meanwhile, two influencers close to the president have been "whispering in his ear" to go through with firing Rosenstein, Politico reports. Trump reportedly has been using his influence and airtime to bash the DOJ officials in an attempt to rally support and justify their dismissal. Per The Hill, The Wall Street Journal reports that White House officials are gearing up to fire Rosenstein, and have been instructing influencers to publicly bash him on TV to support that agenda, saying that the firing was "a matter of when, not if." As of writing, the White House has not made an official statement regarding Rosenstein in light of these comments. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.
CNN reports that White House officials are reportedly painting Rosenstein as Comey's friend in an effort to undermine his credibility. Rosenstein, though, aided in Comey's firing.
Members of Congress and experts weighed in on what the DAG's dismissal would mean, and the indications are worrying.
"It's a very bad idea," former Speaker of the House John Boehner told the TODAY show as to the possibility of Trump firing Rosenstein or Mueller. "Either there are facts or there are not; either there were crimes committed, or there weren't. The American people deserve to see the truth... There is no reason why those investigations should be impeded at all."
"WHAT? The most conflicted potus in US history is going to smear a respected longtime public servant with trumped up conflicts? No!" tweeted former White House ethics czar Norm Eisen.
University of Alabama law professor Joyce Vance pointed out in a tweet that Trump hand-picked his deputy attorney general upon taking office. "Rosenstein was appointed by Trump, who, no surprise, was looking for personal loyalty, not integrity, from DOJ appointees," she wrote.
On Monday, the FBI raided the New York office of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and friend, seeking files pertaining to alleged payoffs made to two women — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — who claimed to have had affairs with Trump in 2006 to keep them from speaking publicly prior to the 2016 election. The New York Times reports Rosenstein signed off on the search warrant that approved this raid. (Trump and the White House have denied that Trump had an affair with either woman. Cohen has admitted to paying Daniels, but said it was not connected to the presidential campaign.)
If Trump does fire Rosenstein, a few things might happen, Politico reports. For starters, it wouldn't make the Russia investigation just go away; in fact, it might make it worse. State attorneys general might pick up their own investigations and other DOJ officials would pursue the tack.
As for the president himself, he could be impeached. Already, some members of Congress have made it clear how they feel about it.
On Twitter, Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania made their warnings to Trump clear. "Dear @realDonaldTrump: If you fire Mueller or Rosenstein, not only will millions & millions of rational Americans oppose you, it guarantees Dems take back the House & Senate," Lieu tweeted Thursday. "Also, it makes you look more like Nixon. Do you want to look more like Nixon?"
"If @realDonaldTrump fires the Deputy AG, I will immediately introduce an article of impeachment," tweeted Boyle on Friday. "This is a clear attempt to obstruct justice."
But others in the Senate, according to the National Journal, are advocating for a wait-and-see approach if Trump does fire Rosenstein. Per the report, Sen. Mark Warner and other Democrats met to hash out a plan, and argued for a waiting period before they make any sudden moves. Elite Daily reached out to Warner's office for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.
"The first 24 to 48 hours, if and when that happens, we should stay calm," an unnamed member of Congress told the Journal. "We should do our best to reach out across the aisle and talk to our colleges ... Just don't go immediately to DEFCON-1."
Aside from Congressional action, Reuters reports that nationwide protests are planned in the event that Trump does go through with firing either Mueller or Rosenstein. Per that report, MoveOn.org has lined up more than 800 demonstrations across the U.S. for its "Nobody Is Above The Law" rallies, with over 300,000 pledged attendees as of writing.