The Wall Street Journal has confirmed something that many suspected all along: that last week's bombshell New York Times story detailing a purported coup attempt by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, as well as subsequent reports that Rosie's firing/resignation was imminent, were planted to distract from the ongoing Kavanaugh confirmation saga - if only for a little while.
The WSJ reported roughly around the same time as WaPo, that Trump has told several advisers that he is open to keeping Rosenstein on the job, while Rosenstein has given several DOJ employees the impression that he doesn't plan on quitting.
... by Monday afternoon, the succession plan had been scrapped. Rosenstein, who told the White House he was willing to quit if President Trump wouldn’t disparage him, would remain the deputy attorney general in advance of a high-stakes meeting on Thursday to discuss the future of his employment. The other officials, too, would go back to work, facing the prospect that in just days they could be leading the department through a historic crisis. - WaPo
In any case, before he makes a final decision, the president would like to hear Rosenstein's side of the story directly.
Earlier this week, the White House said the two would meet on Thursday once Trump had returned from Washington following the UN General Assembly meeting. According to his advisors, Trump's cautious approach to the story shows that he harbors doubts about the story's veracity (and also that he is listening to media figures and Congressional allies who have warned him to proceed with caution).
That raised at least the possibility that a roller coaster of a week could end with no major shake-up in the top ranks of the Justice Department, even as White House and Justice officials cautioned that it was impossible to know for sure what Mr. Trump would do. Mr. Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any links to Trump campaign officials. Mr. Trump has dismissed the probe as “a witch hunt.”
The president has told advisers that he wants to hear directly from Mr. Rosenstein about reports that he discussed secretly recording the president and recruiting cabinet members to remove him from office, according to people who have spoken to the president. That meeting is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
The president’s willingness to hear out Mr. Rosenstein signaled to advisers that he harbors doubts about whether the top official in fact sought to have him ousted him from the Oval Office, these people said. The issue arose after the New York Times reported that Mr. Rosenstein floated the idea in early 2017, something he has strongly denied.
As the president prepares to question Rosenstein, Republicans in the House are preparing a subpoena for memos allegedly detailing Rosenstein’s comments on surreptitiously recording the president. They are also reportedly pushing for him to come and testify.
While the two men haven't exactly seen eye to eye in the past, WSJ reported that tensions between Trump and Rosenstein have eased in recent months (for context, Republicans in Congress tried to forcibly remove Rosie from his post for the second time back in April following the FBI's raids on former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's home, hotel and office)>
Mr. Rosenstein has been a target of the president’s ire as part of his disdain for Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but those tensions eased in recent months, White House officials said. According to people familiar with the matter, aides have counseled the president that Mr. Rosenstein is cut from a different cloth than James Comey or Andrew McCabe, two former FBI officials who have been sharply criticized by Mr. Trump.
"The president is genuinely conflicted," said one person who has spoken to the president. "He’s got an open mind about whether Rod really tried to orchestrate this."
The should-he-stay-or-should-he-go speculation over Mr. Rosenstein has gripped Washington because of the implications of ousting the man overseeing the Mueller investigation probe.
Meanwhile, following Monday's botched news fiasco, according to several anonymous friends of Rosenstein the Deputy AG's tone over the weekend suggested that he had no intention of stepping down.
White House officials said Thursday’s meeting between the two men could focus on terms of a resignation, which they said Mr. Rosenstein offered to White House chief of staff John Kelly last week. During a meeting with Mr. Kelly on Monday, Mr. Rosenstein said he wanted to speak with the president about why he would step down and discuss how his exit would be publicly described, according to people familiar with the matter.
People close to Mr. Rosenstein took issue with this depiction of Thursday’s agenda, however. And as Mr. Rosenstein talked to White House officials over the weekend about his possible departure, he spoke to friends who came away with the impression he had no immediate plans to step down.
White House officials said there was a real possibility that the president would decide to keep Mr. Rosenstein in his job after the meeting. "We’re ready for any and all possibilities," one official said.
Even Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he believed Rosenstein should stay on.
Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said regardless of whether Mr. Rosenstein stays in his job, the Mueller probe should be paused and examined "in the interest of fairness."
"I’m not sure they should get rid of him," Mr. Giuliani said of Mr. Rosenstein. "But I do think they should take a serious look at whether he should be the decision maker." Among other factors, he said, Mr. Rosenstein was a witness in the investigation, given his role in the president’s May 2017 decision to fire Mr. Comey as FBI director.
Then again, in a slightly different twist, the WaPo, also late on Tuesday, reported that some officials said that Matt Whitaker, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff, had told people he would be taking over for Rosenstein — an indication that the deputy attorney general’s departure was all but certain — and were surprised when it was announced that Rosenstein would remain in his job.
Sessions began telling people on Sunday that Rosenstein might be in trouble, according to people familiar with the matter. Others said they learned all the developments from news reports that evolved throughout the day.
What happens next? While it remained possible that Rosenstein could still resign or be fired imminently, people told WaPo that it was more likely that Rosenstein would stay in the job until after November’s elections and then depart, probably along with the attorney general.
Two White House officials said Tuesday that Trump is unlikely to fire Rosenstein until after the midterms, "as forcing out the deputy attorney general in the next month could motivate Trump’s detractors to turn out for elections in which dozens of congressional seats are in play and Republicans are fearful they are at risk of losing control of the House. And those who have observed Trump and Rosenstein together or have been told of their interactions said the president seemed to hold Rosenstein in somewhat higher regard than he did Sessions."
“For all of the president’s bluster, I’m not sure he doesn’t have at least some grudging respect for Rod,” said James M. Trusty, a friend of Rosenstein and former Justice Department official who works in private practice at Ifrah Law.