The Mueller Investigation Is Bigger Than Rod Rosenstein

This isn’t to say that a Rosenstein replacement couldn’t do any damage — he could try to starve the investigation of resources, for example, or withhold approval for investigative steps that have yet to be taken. But considering that the potential replacements for Mr. Rosenstein — Solicitor General Noel Francisco or the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel — have very little experience in counterintelligence and criminal matters, they would face an uphill battle justifying those decisions against seasoned prosecutors and in the face of evidence warranting otherwise.

.. Under the special counsel regulations, moreover, any such decision would be required to be reported to Congress. With the precedent set by Devin Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee, if Congress changes hands, it’s going to be very difficult for the president to try to block obvious attempts to obstruct justice from seeing the light of day.

How Rosenstein can protect the Mueller investigation — even if he’s fired

Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, this week called for Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who would probably replace Rosenstein in overseeing Mueller’s work if Rosenstein leaves office, to “pause” the investigation and to take “a step back.”

Which is why Rosenstein should prepare for Thursday by sending Congress, through appropriate channels, a description of the evidence of wrongdoing Mueller has already turned up. There’s no way to know what a meeting with the volatile president might bring. And the search for the truth might depend on what steps Rosenstein takes beforehand.

.. There are all sorts of ways a Trumpist replacement for Rosenstein could stymie an investigation, ranging from dramatic (firing Mueller outright) to low-key (refusing to provide Congress with any interim reports and simply dragging the investigation out endlessly, without any updates to the public) or even more subtle (starving the budget or depriving Mueller of key personnel).

.. Trump here has pointedly not made the same promise that Nixon did in 1974, which is that he and the acting attorney general would not remove the special counsel without the express agreement of both the majority and minority in Congress.

..  “If President Trump cannot agree to an investigation modeled on what Richard Nixon agreed to, the question will linger: Just what is he afraid of?”

.. Rosenstein could, right now, tell Congress (or even a small group of members, with appropriate safeguards, including secrecy) what has happened — what Mueller has learned so far, whether Rosenstein has ever said “no” to Mueller and where the investigation is headed now.

Congress, Do Your Job

After President Trump’s Terrible Tuesday, Republican lawmakers need to stop pretending that there are any red lines that he won’t cross.

Congressional Republicans have been operating under a see-no-evil policy with President Trump: ignoring his lying, his subversions of democratic norms and his attacks on government institutions or, when that’s not possible, dismissing such outrages as empty bluster — as Trump being Trump.

..Also on Tuesday, a federal jury convicted Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of bank and tax fraud. How did Mr. Trump react? More like a Mafia don than a guardian of the rule of law. While criticizing Mr. Cohen on Wednesday, the president tweeted that, by contrast, he had “such respect for a brave man” like Mr. Manafort, who “refused to ‘break’ … to get a ‘deal.’ ” The president, in other words, felt moved to praise a convicted felon for refusing to cooperate in the pursuit of justice.

.. And how did Republicans in Congress react? They didn’t, if they could avoid it. John Cornyn, the majority whip in the Senate, shrugged that he had “no idea about what the facts” of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea were “other than the fact that none of it has anything to do with the Russia investigation.” The office of the House speaker, Paul Ryan, said it needed “more information.” Most members opted for silence.

.. When members of Mr. Trump’s party pooh-pooh his thuggish rantings and otherwise signal that they will overlook even his most dangerous behavior, they are inviting him to act out even more. Like a willful toddler, Mr. Trump lives to test limits.

.. Republican lawmakers need not attack Mr. Trump in order to stop enabling his worst impulses and begin distancing themselves from his corruption. They simply need to stop cowering. An obvious first step is for Congress to pass legislation protecting Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry

..  The president has toyed with the idea of firing Mr. Mueller and his superior, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, moves that would ignite a constitutional crisis. Lawmakers are deluding themselves to think that he won’t consider such radical acts again as his predicament grows more dire.

.. Much of the groundwork for a bill to protect the Russia investigation has already been laid, with a bipartisan plan having passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shamefully, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, has refused to bring the bill up for a vote

.. insisting that it is unnecessary because of course the president would never fire Mr. Mueller.

.. Mr. Ryan has spouted similar assurances. Then again, Mr. Ryan also laughed off the idea that Mr. Trump would strip his political critics of their security clearances, so clearly Republican leaders are not the best barometers of this president’s thinking.

.. Speaking of Mr. Ryan, the speaker needs to shut down the attacks on Mr. Rosenstein by Mr. Trump’s lackeys in the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus.

.. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan threatened to force an impeachment vote on Mr. Rosenstein, claiming that he was impeding Congress’s harassment — uh, “investigation” — of the Justice Department and the F.B.I. When that plan flopped, the men set their sights on holding Mr. Rosenstein in contempt of Congress — which doesn’t sound as dramatic, but would, if successful, provide Mr. Trump an excuse to oust Mr. Rosenstein and replace him with a lap dog.

.. Once upon a time, campaign finance violations made congressional Republicans very angry indeed. During Bill Clinton’s second term, there was quite an uproar over allegations that the Chinese government had attempted to influence the 1996 presidential race via illegal campaign contributions. (Does Vice President Al Gore’s visit to a certain Buddhist temple ring any bells?)

.. His efforts to hide the money trail suggest he knew his behavior wasn’t kosher. And while the initial payments to the women were made before Mr. Trump won the election, he didn’t begin compensating Mr. Cohen until February of 2017 — thus any conspiracy was carried straight into the Oval Office.

.. Every week seems to bring fresh evidence that Mr. Trump, his inner circle and his main backers do not consider themselves bound by such pedestrian concepts as truth, ethics or the law. The latest confirmation for that was the corruption indictment of Representative Duncan Hunter, Mr. Trump’s second campaign supporter in the House. The first, Representative Chris Collins, was indicted two weeks ago on insider-trading charges.

Congress, unfortunately, remains crouched and trembling in a dark corner, hoping this is all a bad dream. It’s not. Republican lawmakers need to buck up, remind themselves of their constitutional responsibilities and erect some basic guardrails to ensure that — in a fit of rage, panic or mere pique — this president does not wake up one morning and decide to drive American democracy off a cliff.

Conservative lawmakers introduce resolution calling for impeachment of Rod Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel probe on Russia

Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, in a move that marks a dramatic escalation in the battle over the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The effort, spearheaded by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), also sets up a showdown with House Republican leaders, who have distanced themselves from calls to remove Rosenstein from office. But Meadows and Jordan stopped short of forcing an immediate vote on the measure, sparing Republican lawmakers for now from a potential dilemma.

.. The DOJ has continued to hide information from Congress and repeatedly obstructed oversight — even defying multiple Congressional subpoenas,” Meadows said in a tweet announcing the move. “We have had enough.”

.. House Republicans have been ramping up their attacks on the deputy attorney general in recent weeks, accusing him of withholding documents and being insufficiently transparent in his handling of the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

.. Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.

.. In addition to searching his home, office and hotel room, F.B.I. agents seized material from Mr. Cohen’s cellphones, tablet, laptop and safe deposit box

.. Prosecutors revealed in court documents that they had already secretly obtained many of Mr. Cohen’s emails.

Mr. Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.

.. The lawyers fear that Mr. Cohen will not be forthcoming with them about what was in his files, leaving them girding for the unknown.

.. Mr. Cohen argued that he or an independent lawyer should be allowed to review the documents first.

.. Joanna C. Hendon, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said in court. “I’m not trying to delay. I’m just trying to ensure that it’s done scrupulously.”

Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, wrote in a court filing that the search “creates constitutional concerns regarding officers of the executive branch rummaging through the private and privileged papers of the president.”

.. Prosecutors argued that the previously seized emails revealed that Mr. Cohen was “performing little to no legal work, and that zero emails were exchanged with President Trump.” They said their investigation was focused on Mr. Cohen’s business dealings, not his work as a lawyer.

.. And the New York search warrant makes clear that the authorities are interested in his unofficial role in the campaign.

.. Prosecutors demanded all communication with the campaign — and in particular two advisers, Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks

.. Mr. Cohen had secretly made, but he told people in recent days that he did not tape his conversations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen frequently taped conversations with adversaries and opposing lawyers

.. Trump has considered firing Mr. Mueller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein.

.. prosecutors said they had found evidence of fraud and a “lack of truthfulness”

.. Mr. Trump has viewed any investigation of his business and private life to be off limits to prosecutors, but the search warrants make clear that investigators consider those topics part of their case.

What If President Donald Trump Tries to Fire Robert Mueller?

Mr. Mueller was appointed not by Mr. Trump, but by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from involvement in any investigation related to the 2016 presidential race. That means Mr. Trump couldn’t fire Mr. Mueller himself, but would have to order Mr. Rosenstein to do so.

Mr. Rosenstein has expressed support for Mr. Mueller, and his associates expect him to resign rather than carry out such an order. If that happens, Mr. Trump could turn to the next Justice Department official in line, acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, and then to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

It isn’t known if either would heed an order to fire Mr. Mueller. If they refuse, Mr. Trump would have to go down the hierarchy at the Justice Department until he found an official willing to do so. In such a situation, the president could face a number of DOJ resignations—and the political fallout that would entail.

Something like this happened on Oct. 20, 1973, when President Richard Nixon ordered Justice Department officials to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. Solicitor General Robert Bork finally did as Mr. Nixon asked. That episode became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

.. Some legal experts have asked whether Mr. Trump might replace Mr. Sessions or Mr. Rosenstein with another official and order that person to fire Mr. Mueller.

Attorneys general and their deputies must be confirmed by the Senate. Someone who is temporarily “acting” in that position, without Senate confirmation, must come from an existing Justice Department job or a Senate-confirmed post elsewhere in the administration.

.. Mr. Trump could, in theory, install someone like Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, as acting attorney general. Then, he could order Mr. Pruitt to fire Mr. Mueller. The political blowback from such a move, however, would likely be considerable.

Would Justice Department officials appoint another special counsel to replace Mr. Mueller?

Harsh public reaction to the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 forced Mr. Nixon to allow DOJ officials to appoint a replacement. Leon Jaworski took that job and steadily pursued the investigation until the president was forced to resign.

.. There is no reason to think the Trump administration would appoint a new special counsel if Mr. Mueller were dismissed.

.. Prominent lawmakers of both parties, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), have expressed support for Mr. Mueller. Mr. Grassley’s committee holds confirmation hearings for Justice Department officials, so his views are especially important.

The Iowa senator has suggested he wouldn’t move to approve a replacement if Mr. Trump fires Mr. Sessions, and on Tuesday he told Fox Business that “it would be suicide for the president to want to talk about firing Mueller.”

.. In addition, even if Mr. Trump fires Mr. Mueller, he can’t fire the grand jury the special counsel is working with or the judge overseeing it. A judge could appoint another prosecutor to continue working with the grand jury.

Beware of Devin Nunes’s Next Move

Every indication is that this is far from the end of the committee majority’s mischief. All signs instead point to this week’s developments as the beginning of a new chapter in the story, in which House Republicans go on the offensive to support President Trump — and fight the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

.. First, the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, attempted to provide cover for President Trump’s false allegation that he was wiretapped by his predecessor. Mr. Nunes met with White House officials in secret and then held news conferences in which he claimed that the outgoing national security adviser, Susan Rice, and her colleagues had wrongly sought to “unmask” (i.e., identify by name) certain Trump associates in surveillance reports.

.. When that effort ran out of steam, Mr. Nunes and the majority shifted their attention to the process by which law enforcement agencies obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorization to conduct electronic monitoring of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

The committee released a highly misleading memo claiming that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice had abused their powers — claims which turned out to be unfounded.

The special counsel is examining three core issues:

  1. Did Russia attack the 2016 elections to aid Mr. Trump;
  2. did Mr. Trump or members of his campaign collude with the Russians to do so; and
  3. did Mr. Trump or others obstruct the investigation of these matters?

.. the majority report endeavors to gut the second question, declaring the absence of collusion altogether.

.. It would be a grave error to think the committee will stop here, especially its chairman. There is nothing in Mr. Nunes’s record to suggest that he will let up in the face of opposition

.. The so-called “Nunes memo,” although widely considered a flop, was just the first in a series that he has said he plans to issue.

.. The president and his supporters have argued that his constitutional power to direct the Justice Department and the F.B.I. and to fire their personnel means he cannot as a matter of law be held accountable for obstructing an investigation.

.. we fully expect them to weigh in on the side of the president, and against accountability.

.. Should Mr. Mueller move to compel the president to testify by obtaining a grand jury subpoena, for example, look for them to back arguments circulated by Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the special counsel has not met the threshold for such a step.

.. We also expect more overt attacks on Mr. Mueller himself

.. We must in addition look for Representative Nunes and his ilk to back the president should he seek to install a crony in one of the positions within the Justice Department that oversees the Mueller investigation.

.. Mr. Trump instead can try to throttle him by replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions or his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, with a compliant soul who can slowly choke off Mr. Mueller by cutting his budget, trimming his staff or curtailing the scope of his review.

.. In a week in which there has already been a major cabinet reshuffle, with the firings of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and one of his top aides, Steve Goldstein, the possibility of such a move looms larger

.. When Mr. Nunes released his first memo, there were ominous rumblings that it was intended to target Mr. Rosenstein for his alleged role in FISA warrant abuses. When the memo fell flat, the rumors faded away. We would hardly be surprised to see a renewed effort against him — and his boss.

.. The special counsel must gird himself for this battle, and all of us must be ready to defend him.