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Donald Trump’s Rosenstein dilemma

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

That is the dilemma President Donald Trump faces as he decides whether to fire Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE following revelations that the deputy attorney general allegedly talked about taping the president and rounding up Cabinet officials to invoke the 25th Amendment. 

There were several people present at this meeting in the aftermath of the firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyCarter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era MORE. Despite the fact that Rosenstein wrote the key memo trashing Comey for his handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Katko fends off Democratic opponent in New York race Harris County GOP chairman who made racist Facebook post resigns MORE email investigation, he reportedly was angry and uncertain after the president actually did it, using his memo as a justification. 

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The prime source for this information appears to be none other than fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeCarter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to know about the Pfizer vaccine announcement MORE, who faces investigation by a grand jury and whose memos are being declassified. McCabe appears to be even angrier at the Department of Justice (DOJ) brass who fired and humiliated him just for leaking and lying when he may have far worse on his comrades.

This is the deep state unraveling.

People bristle when I sometimes adopt and use that term: “deep state.” But as an outside observer, watching the unmasking of the actions of one official after another at the FBI, CIA and DOJ, I have come to accept that an unelected group of well-educated, experienced individuals running these departments became inebriated with their own power during the last election campaign and apparently came to believe they were on a mission to stop, defeat or remove President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE and his associates for crimes they would find or, if necessary, manufacture.

Perhaps Rosenstein was joking when he referenced the 25th Amendment, as another meeting participant reports. But Rosenstein’s statement in response to the news accounts carefully avoids denying having discussed wiring himself or others in some effort to entrap Trump. This cabal is meeting and planning, post-Comey’s firing, despite the fact that Rosenstein himself in his memo to President Trump said Comey was “wrong” and the FBI could not regain lost public trust without a new director who understood his errors. 

It seems Rosenstein also may have believed we needed a new president. Just days into his expanded role and after these conversations, he appointed Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE as special counsel with a still-secret charter to investigate the Trump campaign and administration; the precipitating act was the very firing he recommended. 

Whether it involved sending missiles to Syria after chemical attacks on civilians, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or firing Comey, Trump actually has moved ahead and done some of the things that Washington elites complain about but go along with out of some extreme sense of caution and timidness. And those acts are then branded as some kind of lunacy.

Perhaps the true headline item in Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear,” is that Trump was so incensed at the murdering of women and children by Syria’s Bashar Assad that he actually raised the idea of taking out the dictator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people. Sheer madness? Hardly. President Obama stood idly by as mass murder happened in Syria, and President Clinton’s biggest regret is that he did too little to stop the massacres in Rwanda; he believes 300,000 lives could have been saved had he sent in troops earlier. It’s presidential inaction in the face of madness that has proven most dangerous to the world. Ask the Crimeans. 

I say this not to defend all of the actions of President Trump,  many of which I might disagree with, but to condemn the arrogance of those in the deep state who convinced themselves that they would rescue our country from ourselves. They were on a mission, it turns out, not to save our country but to undo our democracy, and Rosenstein finally has been unmasked as having the attitudes and conflicts we all suspected.

There has been an eerie pattern of events involving Rosenstein. Remember how he became downright testy in front of Congress when asked why he signed the fourth surveillance warrant against Carter Page and whether he even read it. In response to lawful demands for documents as to the origins of the investigation, he responded that he wouldn’t be “extorted” by Congress. And, in another one of his jokes (he appears to have quite a wry sense of humor), he raised turning the tables on Congress by reviewing the emails of members and staff who were there to gather information from the FBI. Just kidding. 

Until now, Rosenstein has escaped real scrutiny despite this series of defiant statements and actions. He managed to make it impossible for the president to step in and remove him, or for Congress to supervise him, claiming he reports to some higher authority that he defines as his commitment to the rule of law. 

And, yet, our laws and our Constitution set up no politically unaccountable officials in the executive or legislative branches of government. It is disappointing to see leaders like Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-N.Y.) ignore the actions uncovered here in favor of anything that damages Trump, no matter how egregious the activities of these government officials.

Of course, the president is stuck here. Firing Rosenstein, even if deserved, would be spun like an act of impetuous madness just before the midterms. Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 MORE, who would have the acceptable power to do so, appears unable or unwilling to act in any bold manner. All Trump can do is get out all the documents and call upon the inspector general to fully investigate these reports.

After the midterms, though, he could instruct the attorney general to appoint — or, perhaps, do so directly himself — a second special prosecutor to investigate the actions of the FBI, CIA and DOJ in the Clinton and Trump investigations. Over 70 percent of Americans in the Harvard/CAPS poll believe such a counsel should be appointed now. If Democrats take over Congress, there will be no way without that appointment to continue investigations that have turned up real malfeasance of the sort by these officials. Democrats have other plans for their investigative powers, if they get them.

Whatever you want to call these well-heeled members of the intelligence community and Justice Department, many of whom now have book and speaking contracts, it is clear they all engaged in a conspiracy to bring down this administration on the basis of unverified information, and to turn the most basic acts of presidential power, like the firing of Comey, into obstruction of justice.

The more information that comes out here, the ever more egregious the actions of all of these officials appear in the light of day.

Mark Penn is a managing partner of the Stagwell Group, a private equity firm specializing in marketing services companies, as well as chairman of the Harris Poll and author of “Microtrends Squared.” He served as pollster and adviser to President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during Clinton’s impeachment. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Penn.