We’ve now had numerous instances in which President Trump has taken some dramatically inappropriate or illegal steps but we only learn about it much, much later. Look what happened today. I strongly suspect we now have another example.
Earlier today, the White House press aide Lindsay Walters announced that today: “Rod Rosenstein met with the president at the White House regarding routine department business.”
I’d be curious to hear from former Department of Justice officials, especially at Main Justice, as well as officials who’ve worked for other recent Presidents. It sounds like this was a meeting between Trump and Rosenstein – not some big meeting that both happened to be in. What I am curious to hear about from former officials is how often Deputy Attorneys General had meetings with the President in other recent presidencies. I suspect it was not a frequent occurrence. Even the Attorney General doesn’t meet that often with the President one on one. Again, this doesn’t sound routine. If you have knowledge about this from recent presidencies, let me know.
So what happened? There are some interesting tea leaves.
There was a tweet about the visit from the Post’s Matt Zapotosky at 1:26 PM.
From what I understand, Rod Rosenstein, along with the FBI general counsel, went to the White House today for a meeting on Congressional document requests. I don’t know with whom he spoke. He remains the Deputy Attorney General, to the best of my knowledge as of this writing.
— Matt Zapotosky (@mattzap) April 12, 2018
Zapotosky is a Justice Department reporter. That’s almost certainly his source of information.
At 1:43 PM there’s this tweet from the Zoe Tillman, DOJ reporter for Buzzfeed …
DOJ has confirmed that DAG Rod Rosenstein and FBI general counsel Dana Boente were at the White House today, spox says they were meeting on issues re: production of records to Congress
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) April 12, 2018
Note that she explicitly cites DOJ sources. And note that neither of the DOJ reporters say anything about meeting with the President. Did DOJ sources leave out that information? Or did they perhaps not know Rosenstein was going to end up meeting with the President?
The update from the White House came a short time later in this tweet …
White House spokeswoman @LWalters45 says “Rod Rosenstein met with the president at the White House regarding routine department business.”
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 12, 2018
Also keep this in mind. The ‘production of records’ issue is the on-going battle between the DOJ, the FBI and Devin Nunes about records about the origin of the Russia probe. This is about Nunes’ and the House GOP’s effort to discredit the Russia investigation.
So let’s review. There’s a tug of war between Nunes and the FBI, the aim of which is discrediting the Russia investigation. Rosenstein oversees the Russia investigation. It sounds like Trump wanted to talk with Rosenstein about the document production. That is wildly inappropriate, to put it mildly, since President Trump is a prime focus of the Russia probe.
I will note that it doesn’t say explicitly that Trump asked about that. We have reports from the Justice Department that Rosenstein and Boente went to the White House for discussions about the document production issues. Then we have the White House saying Rosenstein met with the President about “routine department business.”
And there’s more!
Late this afternoon we learned that the White House is circulating talking points for administration allies to undermine Rosenstein. There are two arguments. First is the one I mentioned yesterday: Rosenstein can’t oversee the Russia probe because he helped Trump fire James Comey. They then add the second, rather contradictory argument, that Rosenstein is a close friend of Comey and is using the Mueller probe to retaliate against the President for firing Comey. Knowledgable sources say that the Rosenstein/Comey relationship isn’t even true. But you can see how these two arguments don’t exactly hold together regardless.
Here’s the CNN report about this new directive from the White House to undermine Rosenstein.
White House circulating talking points that Rosenstein needs to be fired because he helped fire Comey. Also he’s Comey’s friend. Also, none of that makes sense. pic.twitter.com/lzlGDn3zr6
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 12, 2018
This was happening more or less simultaneously with the President’s meeting with Rosenstein, which appears to have happened midday.
Another question. Boente went to the White House with Rosenstein. Did he join the meeting with Trump?
We’ve seen numerous examples of how Trump can’t help himself crossing lines in meetings like this. He had what may have been an unplanned meeting with Rosenstein on the day his aides are mobilizing a public campaign to undermine him. He also seems to have been meeting with Rosenstein about an issue directly tied to the Russia probe. What did Trump say?