Friday, April 05, 2019

Smarter Than a Ph.D.

Smarter than a fifth-grader?  Donald J. Trump is smarter than a fifth-grader, the Democratic Party, or congressional Republicans.

The media was shocked, and I was unimpressed, to learn last September that Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein had suggested during a meeting wearing a wire in the White House to record the chaos there. Neither we nor House Republicans and Democrats recognized what was following, even when the following month the infamously vindictive Donald J. Trump sat down the official whom he learned the previous month had broached the idea of spying on him.

While most of the country expected Rosenstein to be relieved of his duties

President Donald Trump declared a reprieve Monday for Rod Rosenstein, saying he has no plans to fire his deputy attorney general whose future has been the source of intense speculation for two weeks.

“I’m not making any changes,” Trump told reporters as he returned to the White House after traveling with Rosenstein to an international police chiefs’ conference in Florida. “We just had a very nice talk. We actually get along.”

Evidently they did, because two months later Rosenstein would claim

that a memo critical of the ongoing Russia investigation written by President Donald Trump's nominee to be the next attorney general had no impact on the ongoing probe.

The memo, written last summer by attorney general nominee William Barr, was sharply critical of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into allegations of collusion between the Russian government and the 2016 Trump campaign. But Rosenstein said Barr's past memo would have no impact on Mueller's probe.

Four months later and The New York Times reports

Some of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.

Barr has not claimed that the analysis was his alone. Rather, in his second memorandum to congressional leaders, he maintained ""Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."

Nonetheless, Democrats appear rather content with the DAG.  Last week, Roll Call noted

Most Democrats have not publicly registered complaints about Rosenstein, like they have with Barr and his alleged bias stemming from his June 2018 memo.

“Nobody has expressed any concern about Rod Rosenstein’s involvement to date,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said.

Oversight Chairman Elijah E. Cummings suggested he does not question Rosenstein’s objectivity, noting he’s known him for 15 years because he served as a federal prosecutor out of his district in Baltimore. The problem, the Maryland Democrat said, is he doesn’t know what process the DOJ used to determine there wasn’t sufficient evidence of obstruction by Trump.

Republicans, though, have generally been far less generous toward Justice's #2 guy, as we're reminded

House Republicans complained during their time in the majority that Rosenstein deliberately slow-walked responses to their oversight requests. Freedom Caucus members threatened to file articles of impeachment against him, and Trump reportedly mulled firing him.

Republicans found more reason to question Rosenstein’s objectivity last summer after reports that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. Despite threats to do so last year, House Judiciary Republicans never subpoenaed the DOJ for the documents that allegedly chronicled Rosenstein’s suggestion, a set of memos former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote during his tenure as acting agency head in 2017.

Republicans wanted Trump to get rid of Rosenstein while Democrats (myself included) thought of him as the last line of defense against a lawless President determined to squelch. Neera Tanden tweets, however, "maybe now we know why Rod Rosenstein kept his job." She refers to a May, 2017 luncheon meeting of Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes with then-FBI director James Comey. A few days after Comey was fired by the President in May, Wittes explained that Comey had

expressed wariness about the then-still-unconfirmed deputy attorney general nominee, Rod Rosenstein. This surprised me because I had always thought well of Rosenstein and had mentioned his impending confirmation as a good thing. But Comey did not seem enthusiastic. The DOJ does need Senate-confirmed leadership, he agreed, noting that Dana Boente had done a fine job as acting deputy but that having confirmed people to make important decisions was critical. And he agreed with me that Rosenstein had a good reputation as a solid career guy.

That said, his reservations were palpable. “Rod is a survivor,” he said. And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises. “So I have concerns.”

In retrospect, I think I know what Comey must have been thinking at that moment. He had been asked to pledge loyalty by Trump. When he had declined, and even before, he had seen repeated efforts to—from his point of view—undermine his independence and probe the FBI’s defenses against political interference. He had been asked to drop an investigation. He had spent the last few months working to defend the normative lines that protect the FBI from the White House. And he had felt the need personally to make clear to the President that there were questions he couldn't ask about investigative matters. So he was asking himself, I suspect: What loyalty oath had Rosenstein been asked to swear, and what happened at whatever dinner that request took place?

Rosenstein likely had been compromised. It could have taken place at an earlier dinner meeting, as Wittes speculated. Or it might last October when he and the President "just had a very nice talk. We actually get along.”

While Republicans seethed at Rod Rosenstein and Democrats believed he was a staunch defender of the rule of law, Donald Trump knew what he had. He knew, at least as of September 2018, that he had someone he could legitimately- even justifiably- fire for having suggested the extraordinary step of surreptitiously recording the President of the USA.  He knew he had someone who understandably wanted to keep his job, with a government pension and all that went with it. Blackmail was rarely so easy.

As James Comey probably suspected, Rod Rosenstein would neither fall on his sword nor become another Andrew McCabe.  Donald Trump, who is to Rosenstein as Putin is to Trump, has learned far better than any grade schooler ever can the lessons of organized crime.

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