Even a rumor that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was on his way out Monday was enough to touch off a meltdown among President Donald Trump’s harshest critics.
And then the facts caught up with the critics, at least for a little while.
A group called “Nobody’s Above the Law” immediately began organizing rallies across the country to show solidarity for Rosenstein (pictured above). His dismissal allegedly represented a “constitutional crisis” because he is the Department of Justice (DOJ) official overseeing independent counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election meddling, the group tweeted.
In no time, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) compared Rosenstein’s alleged departure to President Richard Nixon’s 1973 firing of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus when they refused to dismiss Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.
“This is, I think, just another step in the unfolding, slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre,” Nadler told CNN, a reference to those actions decades ago.
Nadler said Rosenstein’s departure represents a grave danger to the nation — even if it does not result in Mueller’s firing.
“I don’t think they’ll shut it down immediately,” he said. “But the danger obviously is that whoever supervised Mueller could act in such a way to impede the investigation in certain ways. I don’t think they’d have the nerve to just shut it down.”
But even as the political class was erupting, the story was long on speculation and short on facts. First, Rosenstein was resigning. Then, he was going to be fired. Cable news cameras trained their sights outside the White House to catch a glimpse of Rosenstein, who was scheduled to meet with chief of staff John Kelly.
Amid the swirling end-times reaction, it eventually became clear that Rosenstein would not be fired or resign on Monday. In fact, he stayed at the White House for a meeting with other officials.
CNN explained the inaccurate reporting by blaming Trump. Anchor Kate Bolduan noted that she was confused.
“And I wish I could help with your confusion, but I too am too confused with your confusion as those who are watching right now are so confused,” said the network’s senior political analyst, Mark Preston. “But listen, for the last two years we have all been confused by the Trump presidency. Not necessarily by policy, but by his actions and how he has acted.”
“And I wish I could help with your confusion, but I too am too confused with your confusion as those who are watching right now are so confused.”
Rosenstein reportedly will meet Trump face-to-face Thursday to discuss a New York Times story last week reporting that the deputy AG talked in early 2017 about wearing a wire to the White House to record Trump and mulled the possibility of gathering support in the president’s Cabinet to remove him under the 25th Amendment. Rosenstein has denied the report.
Rich Noyes, director of research at the Media Research Center (MRC), said Monday’s coverage of what turned out to be a nonstory was “embarrassing.” He said anyone can make a mistake.
“But the liberal press has become so arrogant in being the fact-finders of the nation … and then when they do things like this, the reservoir of goodwill is gone,” he told LifeZette.
Notwithstanding the inaccurate reporting that Rosenstein was leaving his post on Monday, it is not at all clear that anything would happen to Mueller’s probe regardless of the outcome of the deputy attorney general’s meeting with Trump on Thursday.
But that didn’t stop Trump’s critics from issuing dire warnings. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) suggested the president was trying to “break the DOJ to its political will.” He tweeted, “Getting rid of #Rosenstein will be another ‘spine check’ on Rs who have so far mostly shown spines of foam.”
Peter Dau, who was an adviser to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, tweeted that Republicans had given “UNLIMITED POWER” to Trump.
“#Rosenstein is gone. #Sessions will be next. #Mueller will not stop him. The #midterms are the last chance to slow the march to full-blown authoritarianism,” he tweeted.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that talk of firing Rosenstein confirms his long-held fears.
“It’s disturbing because I always felt there would be an effort to dislodge this investigation, to hamper it, and I think we’re gonna see that,” he said.
Cohen also took after The New York Times report that sparked the controversy. Even many of Trump’s critics concede that talking about secretly recording the president and invoking the 25th Amendment would be grounds for dismissal. So Cohen criticized the paper’s reporting standards.
“It is so ironic and disturbing that The New York Times, a publication that I’ve always felt was the Gray Lady and a respected publication, is responsible for putting out unverified stories that have given the president the authority, I guess, or public support to fire Rosenstein, which would jeopardize — could jeopardize – the Mueller investigation,” he said.
He took a page from Republicans who have cast suspicion on a prime source for the article — memos written by fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
“They wrote it — the headline and the story — as fact, and not that it was just alleged by an individual, and not the fact that it came from McCabe, who had a grudge against Rosenstein for his firing,” he said. “It lends less credence to it, and that wasn’t mentioned in the article. So, I think their reporting was less than The New York Times is historically respected for.”
Noyes said the criticism is valid but noted that using anonymous sources and then presenting what they say as fact is standard operating procedure, not only for the Times, but journalism writ large.
Yet Cohen has zeroed in on this particular story.
“People always complain about stories that do the most harm to their agenda,” Noyes said.