A guardian angel is protecting U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but for how long is difficult to say. Rosenstein’s ordeal began last month when a New York Times report revealed that, in May of 2017, Rosenstein made two remarks in a series of meetings with D.O.J. and F.B.I. officials suggesting (some say jokingly) that he had recorded U.S. President Donald Trump in secret, and floated the idea of using cabinet members to invoke impeachment procedures. The weekend following the Times’ publication was tense; despite the Deputy Attorney General’s fervent denial of the report’s accuracy, it was assumed that Rosenstein would vacate his position before the end of the month. Trump even proposed a one-on-one with Rosenstein to occur on Sept. 27, a meeting that has been postponed, presumably, until the conclusion of the F.B.I.’s investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The possibility of Rosenstein’s eventual firing is worrying; any abdication of the Deputy Attorney General’s position could jeopardize the course of the Russia investigation, over which Rosenstein has complete authority after the recuse of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has provided a broad latitude for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, and has resisted efforts by Trump-supporting congressional leaders to subvert and inhibit the investigation. As of October of 2018, the inquiry has produced a fruitful six guilty pleas and one guilty verdict.
Yet, Mr. Trump finds the investigation to be, in his own words, a “witch-hunt.” He has repeatedly undermined the probe’s confidential nature by declassifying documents in the name of “transparency,” and continually spouts divisive and sometimes inaccurate information about the scope and conclusions of the special counsel. This latest controversy comes as a perfect excuse for the President to dismiss a “partisan” civil officer without seeming to overtly sabotage the investigation, instead of the far less reasonable “insulted-Trump’s-massive-ego” justification which has motivated the expulsion of many Trump administration officials. In theory, Rosenstein’s firing would allow Trump to appoint a reliable political ally who would impede or dissolve the special counsel’s inquiry altogether, a massive advantage to the administration. The fact that the President hasn’t committed to Rosenstein’s dismissal is possibly, as noted above, a result of the turmoil over sexual assault allegations leveled against Kavanaugh. It is also possible that Trump is waiting to make a wild alteration of the Justice Department until after the midterms, to avoid alienating possible voters who would be thrown off by such a blatantly partisan move.
There is no reason to believe that Trump is keeping Rosenstein on because of any sort of respect for the the rule of law, or some larger conviction to probity; this is not a person capable of moral reflection or adherence to codes of conduct, and he has never bothered to present himself as such. Thus, for now, Rosenstein’s job hangs in the balance of momentary circumstance, and will likely not last the year; the Russia Investigation, too, may be in its last days.