An unexpected actor has re-emerged in the Trump-Mueller-Rosenstein hate triangle.
According to Bloomberg and WaPo, President Trump discussed firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with White House aides on Wednesday, as a "chorus advisers and allies" urges him to hinder and thwart Mueller's investigation of Russian interference.
The biggest voice to emerge from said chorus? That of Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who said he told White House officials that the president should fire both his lawyer Ty Cobb and Rosenstein to cripple Mueller’s inquiry. According to Bannon, the White House should crease cooperating with Mueller and assert executive privilege to silence aides who might speak with the special counsel, even retroactively, for those who’ve already been interviewed.
In a WaPo interview Bannon said Trump "wasn’t fully briefed by his lawyers on the implications" of not invoking executive privilege and added that it was a "strategic mistake to turn over everything without due process, and executive privilege should be exerted immediately and retroactively." Bannon also said that Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb should be fired immediately.
“You have to get rid of Rosenstein, maybe Mueller, and Ty Cobb,” Bannon said. “Get this into the political process. You can’t fight on the Michael Cohen thing every day.”
Later, speaking to Bloomberg, Bannon added that "they crossed the red line by subpoenaing the Trump Organization records and doing the raid on Michael Cohen," Bannon told Bloomberg News in an interview. "They’re into dark territory now. So let’s make this political, shift this thing back to Capitol Hill, take the moral high ground. Let’s take a delaying action and give voters an up-or-down vote on Trump in November."
Bannon said believes that invoking executive privilege would hobble the investigation, shifting it back to Congress, and rally Trump’s base voters before crucial midterm elections in November.
It's not just Bannon: other supporters of the president made their arguments on television. Roger Stone, a sometime Trump confidant, told ABC News on Wednesday that Trump should fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein. Also on Wednesday, Joe diGenova, an attorney who was nearly added to Trump’s legal team last month, said on Fox News that Sessions should fire Rosenstein.
DiGenova also said that Trump should cease cooperation with the special counsel. He spoke on the Fox News show “Hannity,” a program Trump promoted in a tweet earlier in the evening. “Big show tonight,” he said.
The complains also emerge from within the Beltway as several House Republicans led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California blame Rosenstein for withholding a Justice Department document that might have sparked the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.
The Justice Department allowed Nunes and other lawmakers to review a slightly redacted version of the document on Wednesday, a move that may have averted an effort by the Republicans to pursue contempt proceedings against Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
As Bloomberg notes, Bannon’s plan illustrates the conflicts swirling around Trump following the search of Cohen’s properties, which infuriated the president and raised speculation he might seek to fire Mueller, Rosenstein or both men.
Separately it also reveals just how split Trump is about the matter, because while congressional Republicans have warned Trump not to act against the Justice Department, many of the rpesident's closest allies outside the White House are agitating for a more aggressive posture, and fire the responsible parties.
For now Trump has held his fire, although he is clearly listening. In tweets and public statements since the Cohen search, he has assailed Mueller, calling the Russia probe “disgraceful” and an “attack on our country.” Trump has criticized Rosenstein and Sessions as well, who he has suggested deceived and betrayed him by recusing himself from supervising the investigation.
“The fact is Rod Rosenstein has not done his job. He has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another Trump ally, said on Fox News on Wednesday.
To be sure, Rosenstein's termination is hardly assured, a Bloomberg source familiar with Trump’s discussions said, but rather an idea Trump is mulling given the criticism of the deputy attorney general he has heard from allies, TV commentators and some congressional Republicans.
Some of the more sober of Trump’s top advisers, including White House counsel Don McGahn, are concerned that a move to fire Rosenstein or Mueller could prompt mass resignations at the Justice Department and spark a constitutional crisis, the Post reported.
It is certainly unclear is Trump wants to give the impression he is being swayed by Bannon. Trump fired his former chief advisor last year and their relationship was further damaged by the strategist’s cooperation with a critical book on the president published in January, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” Bannon, who helped lead the Trump campaign to victory in 2016, hasn’t spoken with the president about his strategy to cripple Mueller’s inquiry, and he would not name the White House officials he has briefed according to Bloomberg.
After "Fire and Fury" was published, the White House pressured Trump’s allies to sever ties with Bannon. He stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart News after losing the support of the Mercer family, his closest financial patrons, after Trump spoke with Rebekah Mercer by phone.
Meanwhile, suggesting that Trump is clearly obsessed with the Mueller probe, and what to do with Rosenstein, Trump's first tweet on Thursday morning was about, who else, Mueller:
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!
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
It remains unclear what market impact a Trump termination of Rosenstein (or Mueller) would have, but it will probably not be favorable.