Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.
The White House is privately launching new efforts to publicly undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by working with President Trump’s allies to paint Rosenstein as too conflicted to properly oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, CNN reported Thursday evening.
The talking points of the effort are still in their infancy, according to people familiar with the effort who spoke with CNN, but the White House has asked Trump associates to not only undermine Rosenstein in public, but also to attempt to cast Rosenstein and former FBI Director James Comey as close colleagues, even though Rosenstein helped carry out Comey’s firing. A source close to Rosenstein told CNN that the two are not friends.
CNN’s sources say that the White House is hoping if Comey and Rosenstein are seen as allies, Trump’s supporters can argue that Mueller’s expansive Russia probe could be seen as retribution for Comey’s firing. A White House spokesperson, however, told CNN that Trump allies’ seemingly coordinated calls for Rosenstein’s firing are not part of a unified effort.
The increased animosity toward Rosenstein stems from Trump’s frustration over the FBI’s raid of his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s house, hotel and office earlier this week. While the raid was executed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI agents received the warrants after getting information from Mueller’s team. Trump has become increasingly convinced that Mueller and Rosenstein have taken the investigation too far and is reportedly still irate about the raid.
“He’ll be pissed about it until he dies,” one source told CNN, referencing the Cohen raid.
President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to push back on The Washington Post’s report that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was influencing how the White House handles special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
On Wednesday night The Washington Post reported that Bannon has been quietly pitching White House aides on a plan to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Ty Cobb, the lawyer who is overseeing the White House’s response to the Russia investigations.
In a Thursday afternoon tweet Trump did not defend Rosenstein, but he did suggest that he’s not planning to fire Mueller, and he defended Cobb, whom he called “my Special Counsel.”
I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (Unlike the Clintons!). I have full confidence in Ty Cobb, my Special Counsel, and have been fully advised throughout each phase of this process.
The comment comes as reports surface alleging Trump has become increasingly interested in firing Mueller. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump made moves to fire Mueller in December, but refrained. Trump denied those reports Thursday morning by attacking the Times as “fake news.”
After the FBI raided his personal attorney’s office, hotel and home on Monday, Trump told reporters that he had been encouraged by “people” to fire Mueller, but only offered: “We’ll see what happens.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a close ally to the President, tweeted out a warning that “anyone advising” President Donald Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller “does not have the President or the nation’s best interest at heart.”
Anyone advising the President — in public or over the airwaves— to fire Bob Mueller does not have the President or the nation’s best interest at heart.
In the past, Trump has attempted to hide his disdain for Mueller’s investigation, but he has become increasingly explicit about his reported desire to fire the special counsel in recent weeks. In March, Trump slammed former FBI Director James Comey in a tweet and specifically called out Mueller for the first time, saying his probe should “never have been started.”
After news broke on Monday that the FBI had raided Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s house, hotel and office, Trump told reporters that “people have said” he should fire the special counsel, but he stopped short of confirming that he actually wanted to.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
While Mueller did not directly order the FBI raid, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s Russia probe, reportedly signed off on the raid.
Former FBI Director James Comey will compare President Donald Trump to a “mob boss” in an upcoming interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, according to a preview of the anticipated sit-down.
“How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the President to a mob boss?” Stephanopoulos asks at the start of the promo video. The interview is set to air on Sunday at 10 p.m. as a special episode of ABC’s “20/20.” According to a source who was present for the taping and who spoke with Axios, Comey’s comments will “shock the President and his team” when it airs.
The interview is considered the launch of Comey’s book tour, a memoir — called “A Higher Loyalty” — set for release Tuesday.
While Comey has made subtle jabs at President Donald Trump on Twitter since the President fired him, the ABC interview will be the first time Comey speaks out on the circumstances surrounding his firing, which has been criticized as an effort by Trump to obstruct justice by attempting to end the Russia probe.
During her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Wendy Vitter, one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, refused to answer a Democratic senator’s questions about whether the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling was correctly decided.
The seminal SCOTUS decision desegregated schools and changed the landscape of education in the United States with its 1954 ruling that state laws allowing “separate-but-equal” schools violated the Constitution.
When Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Wednesday asked whether the ruling was “correctly decided,” Vitter — who was nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana — dodged the question, saying she didn’t want to comment on any specific rulings. She claimed commenting would open up the door for critiques of her impartiality.
“I don’t mean to be coy, but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions — which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with,” she said. “Again my personal, political or religious views I would set aside, that is Supreme Court precedent. It is binding. If I were to be confirmed I would be bound by it, and of course I would uphold it.”
Blumenthal asked her again if the monumental case was “correctly decided.”
“And again, I will respectfully not comment on what could be my boss’ ruling, the Supreme Court, I would be bound by it and if I start commenting on ‘I agree with this case or I don’t agree with this case,’ I think we get into a slippery slope,” she said.
While it is not uncommon for a judicial nominee to refrain from commenting on specific Supreme Court rulings — in 1986 Justice Antonin Scalia refused to answer questions about the pivotal Marbury v. Madison ruling, as CNN noted — the decision to dodge questions about the case that desegregated Americans schools raised eyebrows.
How can you be a federal judge and not state whether you agree with the unanimous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation? Wendy Vitter is unfit for the federal bench. https://t.co/dykh78rdnr
Affirming the correctness of the desegregation ruling appears to be the exception to the impartiality rule for many judicial nominees. Justice Neil Gorsuch was willing to say that Brown v. the Board of Education was “a correct application of the law of precedent” in his 2017 confirmation hearing and Chief Justice John Roberts even offered praise for the decision during his 2005 confirmation.
“The genius of the decision was the recognition that the act of separating the students was where the violation was. And it rejected the defense — certainly, just a theoretical one given the actual record — that you could have equal facilities and equal treatment,” Roberts said at the time.
Watch a clip of the back-and-forth below, via CNN:
President Donald Trump on Thursday returned to battering The New York Times and denied the newspapers’ reports that the President moved to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in December after he reportedly started digging into Trump’s finances.
“If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him,” he tweeted early Thursday. “Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!”
If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him. Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!
The Times reported on Tuesday that Trump told his advisers in December that he wanted to shut down Mueller’s probe after his team subpoenaed Deutshe Bank for records on Trump. The President reportedly backed down after his lawyers spoke with Mueller’s team and learned that the reports of the subpoenas were inaccurate. Trump also reportedly tried to fire Mueller in June 2017, but cooled off after White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to quit.
While Trump’s tweet appears to deny reports that he wanted to fire Mueller last year, the President publicly mulled firing the special counsel after the FBI raided his personal attorney’s office, home and hotel earlier this week.
During a meeting with top military brass and members of his national security team, Trump told reporters that the raid was “an attack on our country” and said “many people have said you should fire him,” in response to questions about whether he would fire Mueller.
After implying that a “nice and new and smart!” missile attack on Syria was imminent on Wednesday, President Donald Trump walked back his warning to Russia about striking its ally for a suspected chemical attack.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” he tweeted early Thursday. “In any event, the United States, under my administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”
The rectifying tweet comes after Trump received a swath of criticism on Wednesday for his early-morning warnings to Russia to “get ready” for a missile attack. Wednesday’s tweet was likely in response to reports that Russia planned to shoot down any missile launched at Syria and would target the launching area.
The U.S. has reportedly been quietly working with France and Britain to take retaliatory measures against Syria for a suspected chemical weapon attack that killed at least 40 people in a rebel-held town near Damascus over the weekend. Trump was criticized Wednesday not only for taunting Russia, but also for his hypocrisy in sharing major military operation intelligence on Twitter. Throughout his campaign, Trump criticized former President Barack Obama for announcing military strikes before they were carried out.
While Syria has denied it used chemical weapons against its own citizens, the United Nations health agency on Wednesday said that at least 500 patients in Damascus showed some signs of exposure to toxic chemicals.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday praised his counterpart in the House, following Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) announcement that he plans to retire this fall.
McConnell said that Ryan will leave behind a legacy of a “transformational conservative leader” and said he was “glad” that Ryan planned to stay in Congress until January.
“It’s been a sincere pleasure and a real inspiration to work alongside this humble servant and happy warrior,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “I am glad we can count on his continued leadership through the rest of the year because our work together is far from finished. I look forward to collaborating closely these next months to implement more of the inclusive pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda the American people are counting on us to keep advancing.”
During a press conference on Wednesday morning, Ryan confirmed reports that he wouldn’t seek reelection after nearly 20 years serving in the House. After less than three years as Speaker, Ryan said he knew the position was not going to be permanent when he begrudgingly took on the leadership role in October 2015 and said he wanted to spend more time at home in Wisconsin so his children don’t spend their entire childhood with a “weekend dad.”
Rumors have been circulating for months suggesting Ryan was planning to resign or, at least, retire when his term is up, but his office has, up until Wednesday, continuously denied those reports.
Ryan’s office confirmed on Wednesday morning that the Speaker was not seeking reelection when his term is up in November.
“After nearly twenty years in the House, the speaker is proud of all that has been accomplished and is ready to devote more of his time to being a husband and a father,” Brendan Buck, the counselor to the speaker, said Wednesday. “While he did not seek the position, he told his colleagues that serving as speaker has been the professional honor of his life, and he thanked them for the trust they placed in him.”
Rumors of Ryan’s retirement or possible resignation have been circulating for months, but Ryan’s office has denied all reports that he was planning to leave Congress.
Just before he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump was busy trying to get a Democrat to switch parties, just like he once did.
While courting Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) for a potential Cabinet position in December 2016, Trump asked her if she’d consider joining the Republican Party, according to The Washington Post.
“When I visited him in Trump Tower before he was sworn in, he asked me to switch parties,” Heitkamp told the Post on Tuesday. “He says, ‘You should switch parties.’ … I said ‘You should give me and Ex-Im Bank.’”
Heitkamp was referencing the Export-Import Bank, which, at the time, she was a vocal advocate for.
Heitkamp, a moderate Democrat, also suggested that last December was not the only time the President had asked her to switch sides. When he asked her to join him while he pitched his tax plan in North Dakota last September, Trump “might have asked me on that trip” to become a Republican, she said.
“He’s always ribbing me a little bit about being too conservative to be a Democrat,” she said. “I think he knows it’s not going to happen.”
Heitkamp, who will likely face a Trump-backed conservative in her reelection bid this fall, said she has often found middle ground with Trump and even agrees with his policy on issues like deregulation and fighting for “working people,” she told the Post.