Is the FBI trying to goad President Trump into firing the man in charge of supervising the Mueller probe? That's what Sean Hannity and a handful of Trump's Congressional allies think.
According to a report in Politico, Republicans in Congress are approaching a story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attempting to organize a palace coup with extreme caution, despite having twice nearly gathered the votes to remove him in the recent past.
On Friday, the NYT reported a bombshell story alleging that Rosenstein had tried to recruit administration officials to secretly tape conversations with the president in order to help justify removing Trump under the 25th amendment. Rosenstein vehemently denied the story, which was largely based on confidential memos written by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. And others who were reportedly in attendance at meeting between McCabe and Rosenstein said the Deputy AG was being "sarcastic" when he suggested that the president be taped.
Meanwhile, Trump allies including Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz are saying that the story should be treated with suspicion. Jordan and Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows once filed articles of impeachment against Rosenstein. But now, both Meadows and Jordan intend to proceed with caution, telling Politico that he would like to see the memos that the story was based on.
House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who led a charge to impeach Rosenstein this summer, have said they want to hear from Rosenstein and see documents allegedly describing the comments before they decide what to do. That’s awarded Rosenstein a courtesy they’ve never given him in the past.
"I think Rod needs to come before Congress this week and explain under oath what exactly he said and didn't say," Meadows said at the Values Voters Summit Saturday.
The newfound hesitation to oust Rosenstein highlights a cautious approach Trump allies have adopted as the Republican party barrels toward a potential bloodbath in the midterms. Some Republicans fear Trump firing Rosenstein now would only further energize Democrats making the case to voters that the president is corrupt and needs to be reined in by a Democratic House.
In a Friday interview, Jordan, one of Rosenstein's fiercest critics in Congress, sidestepped questions about whether the House should revisit Rosenstein’s impeachment or try to hold him in contempt of Congress. Rather, he said, a more focused push to obtain sensitive documents from the Justice Department — which Trump's allies say would expose anti-Trump bias and corruption the FBI — is the most urgent priority.
"I want to see those memos and evaluate them," said Jordan, who has clashed publicly with Rosenstein over access to documents and accused him of threatening House Intelligence Committee staffers, an allegation Rosenstein denied.
Politico cites two possible explanations for lawmakers' hesitation: Republicans are running out of time before members devote themselves full-time to their reelection campaigns. Republicans are worried that the story could have been intentionally planted to provoke Rosenstein's firing in order to improve Democrats' chances of retaking the Senate AND the House (Trump actively moving to crush the Mueller probe would be quite the propaganda win for the Dems).
Sean Hannity took this latter theory a step further during his show on Friday evening, where he urged Trump not to fire Rosie and instead insisted that the story could have been a "trap". He added that he had been told by "multiple sources" that the story was planted by unspecified "enemies of Trump."
"I have a message for the president tonight," Hannity said Friday night. "Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody...the president needs to know it is all a setup."
Still, a handful of conservative commentators, including Laura Ingraham, urged Trump to fire Rosenstein immediately. And for Trump's part, he hinted at a rally Friday night in Missouri that he planned to "get rid" of the "lingering stench" at the DOJ, which many interpreted as a hint that his firing is imminent.