Rosenstein: In or Out?

There were news reports this morning that Rod Rosenstein had resigned. These turned out to be premature.

Josh Marshall:

My read here is that Kelly thought or wanted to think that Rosenstein said he was willing to resign. But he refused to resign and made clear that if they wanted him gone Trump would have to fire him. Trump didn’t have the nerve to pull that trigger. Perhaps Kelly made clear that this was something Trump needed to do himself. So here we are.

Gabriel Sherman writes for Vanity Fair:

According to a source briefed on Trump’s thinking, Trump decided that firing Rosenstein would knock Kavanaugh out of the news, potentially saving his nomination and Republicans’ chances for keeping the Senate. “The strategy was to try and do something really big,” the source said. The leak about Rosenstein’s resignation could have been the result, and it certainly had the desired effect of driving Kavanaugh out of the news for a few hours.

Sherman also writes that Trump may be privately cooling on Kavanaugh. Publicly he says he’s 100 percent behind him, but privately he’s telling people something else.

As Kavanaugh’s poll numbers plummet, Trump is telling people in private that he was never a fan of Kavanaugh’s selection, sources said. According to two people who’ve spoken with Trump recently, Trump complained that establishment Republicans foisted Kavanaugh on him, because they reasoned Kavanaugh would unite the party in November. According to one former West Wing official, Trump’s first choice was Judge Thomas Hardiman, who served on the federal bench alongside Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry.

Trump is keeping his distance from the nominee. A White House official said he hasn’t spoken with Kavanaugh in recent days. “This is Brett Kavanaugh’s fight,” the White House official said.

Paul Waldman wrote this while this “in or out?” question was still unresolved:

While Trump might replace Sessions and seems likely to replace Rosenstein, both of those positions require Senate confirmation. Not only does that take some time, but also when it happens, the nominees will without question be grilled about whether they plan to fire Mueller and if they had any communication with Trump or anyone else in the White House about that possibility. By being so public and obvious about his desire to have Justice Department leadership that would quash the investigation on his behalf, Trump has made it almost impossible for anyone he appoints to be in a position to do the one thing he seeks from them.

But in any case, permanent replacements for Rosenstein and possibly Sessions wouldn’t be in place for weeks or even months. In the meantime, responsibility for the investigation would fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Which may give Trump hope, because Francisco is a movement conservative who is just the kind of Republican lawyer from whom Trump might expect loyalty.

But that is no guarantee. Francisco might well refuse to fire Mueller, realizing that doing so would set him down in history as a key player in a blatant attempt to obstruct justice by halting an investigation into the president’s misdeeds for no reason other than that the president doesn’t want to be held accountable. He might even recuse himself from the Russia investigation because his former law firm, Jones Day, represents the Trump campaign.

But wait, there’s more. While the law is a little murky, it may be that if Rosenstein resigns, Trump can immediately replace him with a new acting deputy attorney general (who could then fire Mueller), while if Rosenstein is fired, he can’t.

So, Rosenstein is being pressured to resign. Got it. The word is that Rosenstein has his job until Thursday.

However, even if Rosensten resigns and Trump appoints someone who fires Mueller, that doesn’t necessarily save Trump’s guilty ass. The Mueller investigation has done an enormous amount of work, and Bob Mueller is smart enough that he no doubt has been prepared for a shutdown all along. Waldman speculates that they’ve got a running report of what they’ve found that would surely find its way into public view if the investigation were prematurely terminated. And if the Dems take over the House, next year they can  subpoena documents and witnesses and lay everything bare. And if Trump shuts down the investigation now, the political fallout would be, well, radioactive for him.