Everybody seems to be watching special counsel Robert S. Mueller. There is good reason for that. But no one should forget that Mueller reports to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein.
Mueller, under ordinary circumstances, would report to the attorney general, Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE. But we all know that Sessions has recused himself from that duty and responsibility, something that President TrumpDonald TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased MORE does not approve of and that has incited him to publicly criticize and even demean the attorney general.
The statute having to do with the Office of the Special Counsel states that the special counsel shall report his conclusions concerning this case to the deputy attorney general. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is a career federal prosecutor; he was formerly a U.S. attorney. Rosenstein is no political hack.
What has not been emphasized enough is that it is up to Rosenstein whether or not to make public the report that the special counsel writes.
Let me stop right here and stress that I can not see any reason why Rosenstein would not immediately do just that. The report and all information in it has no business being held in secret or not disclosed. Obviously, there is immense interest in the subject matter. The investigation has gone on for quite awhile and the public has the right to know — everything.
“Everything” is the operative word.
Rosenstein should not release portions or excerpts. The only things not made public would be matters compromising national security.
After the report is written by Mueller, Rosenstein must take action. Trump cannot be protected by Rosenstein. Trump wrongly believed that was Sessions' job.
Rosenstein, for this situation, assumes the rightful role of attorney general; he is no longer deputy attorney general. He did not acquit himself well after the firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump defends indicted GOP congressman Andrew McCabe's settlement with the Department of Justice is a signal to John Durham Giuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign MORE. His actions seemed confused, and his explanation murky. He shouldn't make the same mistakes when it comes to the Mueller report.
The ball is in his court. He is in charge, and he should act decisively and with great clarity.
Since the Comey firing, Rosenstein has backed up and boldly supported Mueller and the independence of that office and its mission. This should continue, unabated.
The question then becomes, what will Trump do if the Mueller report contains unfavorable or critical information or material that implicates Trump in regard to collusion with Russia or possible obstruction of justice? I believe Trump will act just as he did with Comey.
I previously wrote a column that stated Trump would fire Mueller. I’m now even more convinced that Trump would not only fire Mueller but would then not hesitate to fire Rosenstein as well. Rosenstein is key. He is the 2018 equivalent of Attorney General Elliot Richardson of 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” fame.
Trump does not want the special counsel’s report ever to be made public. If he learns it has criminal or impeachable offenses in it, he will do everything in his power to block its release. The scenario that likely could occur is that Trump orders Rosenstein not to make the report public, Rosenstein refuses, and Trump then fires him. Or the report is made public without Trump’s knowledge and Trump then fires Rosenstein.
This is in no way unimaginable.
Trump is intent on making this entire matter go away. He has already shown his cards: He fired Comey. Why, as I have written before, would he do anything different?
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics MORE (R-S.C.) has said that this should not be done. But that assumes that Trump honors the Constitution.
What Trump always cares about, first and foremost, is his own survival, status and net worth. Everything else is secondary.
Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.