Justice Department might face biggest crisis since Nixon era
‘This is playing out in real time,’ a former prosecutor says
If Donald Trump fires Rod Rosenstein or prods him into recusing himself from the Russia meddling investigation he oversees, the president risks creating chaos at the Justice Department while failing to stop the inquiry.
The future of Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, came under doubt Friday when Trump attacked him in a tweet and a U.S. official confirmed that Rosenstein has told colleagues he may have to recuse himself from the inquiry because he’d criticized James Comey in a memo before Trump fired the former FBI director.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” Trump said on Twitter. “Witch Hunt.” The tweet marked the first time Trump has publicly acknowledged that he is under investigation personally.
Depending on how events play out, the Justice Department could face a crisis not seen since the so-called Saturday Night Massacre when President Richard Nixon’s attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned after being ordered to fire the independent special prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigation, said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor.
“This is not a hypothetical exercise,” said Cramer, who’s managing director of consulting firm Berkeley Research Group LLC. “This is playing out in real time.”
“If the president thinks he can fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will shut down the investigation, he’s in for a rude awakening,” Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Friday in a statement. “Even his staunchest supporters will balk at such a blatant effort to subvert the law.”
She said “the president has embarked on an effort to undermine anyone with the ability to bring any misdeeds to light.”
Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate in April on a vote of 94-6. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters Thursday that Rosenstein shouldn’t recuse himself.
Ian Prior, a Justice Department spokesman, said in an email Friday that Rosenstein “has said numerous times, if there comes a point when he needs to recuse, he will. However nothing has changed.” Although the White House initially said Rosenstein’s memo led Trump to fire Comey, the president later said he did so because of the Russia investigation.
If Trump’s goal is to limit Mueller’s probe or force him out, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said this week, “that would be disastrous for him. I mean Mueller is one of the most respected guys in America.”
Mueller already has assembled a team of 13 lawyers with “several more in the pipeline,” his spokesman, Peter Carr, said in an email Friday.
Brand, BoenteUnder federal rules, Trump can’t fire Mueller. Rosenstein is the only official who could do it because Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously recused himself from the probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded with the Russians.
Rosenstein has defended Mueller and said he wouldn’t fire him without good cause. If Rosenstein were out of the picture, responsibility for overseeing Mueller’s investigation -- and deciding his fate -- would fall to Rachel Brand, the department’s associate attorney general.
Brand is a conservative who served in the department under President George W. Bush and doesn’t have a background in criminal prosecutions. If Trump fired Rosenstein, Brand might resign because she and Rosenstein were nominated together, have a close working relationship and went through their confirmation hearings as a team.
And if Rosenstein and Brand were both out of the picture, responsibility for the investigation would fall to Dana Boente, the acting head of the department’s national security division and the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Trump might view Boente as an ally and the most likely person to do his bidding. Trump named Boente as acting attorney general in late January after firing Sally Yates for refusing to defend his original travel ban. Boente carried out the defense.
Boente, however, was nominated by former President Barack Obama and his U.S. attorney’s office has already been leading parts of the federal investigation. Alternatively, Trump could name a new acting deputy attorney general.
Regardless of the chaos that could ensue in the leadership of the Justice Department, Mueller’s investigation appears insulated, and much of the work of the department done by U.S. attorneys across the country will continue, Cramer said.
“You’re not stopping this train,” Cramer said.
Hoy es el día más hermoso de nuestra vida, querido Sancho; los obstáculos más grandes, nuestras propias indecisiones; nuestro enemigo más fuerte, el miedo al poderoso y a nosotros mismos; la cosa más fácil, equivocarnos; la más destructiva, la mentira y el egoísmo; la peor derrota, el desaliento; los defectos más peligrosos, la soberbia y el rencor; las sensaciones más gratas, la buena conciencia, el esfuerzo para ser mejores sin ser perfectos, y sobretodo, la disposición para hacer el bien y combatir la injusticia dondequiera que esté.
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
Don Quijote de la Mancha.
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
Don Quijote de la Mancha.
17 de junio de 2017
Trump Could Force Out Rosenstein, Fail to Stop Russia Probe