Trump’s not busy enough. He’s got free time to watch TV and get defensive. His tweets this morning railed against the “fake news” media and how there was no proof that his campaign (or, in his phrasing, he himself) colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of the election. (He also incorrectly claimed that the investigation had only been going for seven months: It began last July.)
But one tweet is confusing many people, including myself.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
Who is he referring to? We know that the “FBI director” is James B. Comey, whom he fired in early May. But who is “the man who told me to fire the FBI director”?
We know two things about that second person from Trump’s tweet. That person told him to fire the FBI director, and that person is investigating him.
At first pass, that would seem to indicate that he’s referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel, leading the independent investigation into the Russia affair.
Rosenstein also wrote a letter last month outlining concerns about Comey that Attorney General Jeff Sessions then passed on to Trump with the recommendation that Comey be fired.
While that seems like it fits with Trump’s description, then — it actually doesn’t. First of all, Rosenstein’s letter never called for Comey’s firing. (It’s also worth noting that Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he planned to fire Comey anyway.) Obviously, Trump is trying to rewrite the record here, albeit badly.
Second of all, the description of Rosenstein as investigating Trump is a bit off. The special counsel is investigating Trump, and Rosenstein can fire Mueller if he wishes, but he’s not in charge of that investigation. Rosenstein also has jurisdiction over the FBI’s investigation into the Russia matter.
So maybe Trump’s actually referring to Mueller? Mueller’s certainly investigating him — but there’s no indication that Mueller told Trump to fire Comey.
The safest answer: Trump is referring to Rosenstein — and trying to impugn the deputy attorney general by ensnaring him in the firing of Comey at the outset. Which raises another question …
2. Is Rosenstein’s role in the matter tainted? WaPo’s Matt Zapotosky raised this point on Twitter.
Trump hits a question I’ve wondered about: if Comey’s firing is part of probe, given Rosenstein’s role in that, will he have to recuse? https://t.co/iBY4ue49LB
— Matt Zapotosky (@mattzap) June 16, 2017
This issue of his letter to Trump about Comey was not a point of concern when Rosenstein first appointed Mueller. Of course, at that point the investigation wasn’t into Trump’s alleged attempt to lean on Comey to curtail the investigation into Michael Flynn. ABC News reported that Rosenstein had privately acknowledged to friends that he might need to recuse himself for that reason.
— Rick Klein (@rickklein) June 16, 2017
Which could be true. If Rosenstein letter was part of a “plot” to provide justification for Comey’s firing, that’s problematic for Rosenstein… even if he was not part of the plot. He may have a conflict being Mueller’s higher-up.
What would happen if Rosenstein were to recuse himself from oversight of the special counsel?
The duty would fall to the associate attorney general who was recently appointed, Rachel Brand. A 44 year old conservative, Brand was barely alive when Nixon tried to fire his special counsel. It is expected that Brand, unlike Rosenstein might be the one to do Trump’s bidding, if he ever decides to fire Mueller.
So, with Trump repeatedly tweeting about this being a “witch hunt”, does that “mystery tweet” today suggest that Trump knows the path to getting rid of the special counsel?
Yes, this IS a reality show.
UPDATE from… uh…. Fox News:
Fox News reports:
A source confirmed to Fox News that Trump’s tweet was referring to Rosenstein. However, a seperate source close to Trump’s legal team said the president was NOT confirming he was under investigation. He was simply referring to the content of a recent Washington Post story.