Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on Rod Rosenstein’s upcoming testimony before Congress. Part one can be found here.
Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played a central role in the Russia hoax. He was vindictive, conniving and unscrupulous as he sought to destroy the very president he pretended to support and serve.
On Wednesday, Rosenstein will finally be questioned about his actions by the Senate Judiciary Committee as its first witness into an investigation of the origins and evolution of the Russia probe that was opened by the FBI in the summer of 2016. Ten months later —thanks to Rosenstein— it morphed into a special counsel case that dragged on for an agonizing 22 months.
It was Rosenstein who presided over the special counsel investigation of President Trump, all the while conspiring behind the scenes to overthrow him. The duplicity was classic Rosenstein.
He well knew that his appointment of Robert Mueller in May of 2017 was an illegitimate abuse of power and contrary to federal regulations governing the naming of a special counsel, as explained in my last column. At the time, there was no evidence that Trump or his campaign had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. It was all there in the FBI files, hidden from the public but readily available to Rosenstein.
Months earlier in January of 2017, the FBI had debunked the anti-Trump “dossier” as little more than scurrilous lies, exaggerations and fiction. There was no other credible evidence of a collusion conspiracy. James Comey’s FBI knew it, and so did Rosenstein. Yet, he was undeterred. In a fit of anger, he hired Mueller for an investigation in search of a crime, which is anathema to the rule of law.
The White House was understandably shocked. And so were other top officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ). As I recounted in my book, “”“Witch Hunt: The Story Of The Greatest Mass Delusion In American Political History” (page 155), Rosenstein was allegedly confronted in his office over what he had done:
“Rosenstein was literally cowering … hiding behind and somewhat below his desk. ‘Am I gunna get fired?’ blubbered Rosenstein.”
It is a scathing indictment of Rosenstein’s lack of character that he only seemed to care about himself. Never mind that he had launched — on his own authority — a national nightmare that would hobble the presidency for two more years, divide Americans over an unfounded scandal and inflict profound damage to our system of justice.
Why did Rosenstein appoint Mueller? It was an act of retaliation. The deputy attorney general was furious that Democrats in Congress blamed him for the firing of Comey as FBI director. Rosenstein, who authored the firing memo, was suddenly “regretful and emotional,” according to people who interacted with him at the time. He became unglued and blamed Trump for all the criticism. Mueller was Rosenstein’s revenge.
But hiring the special counsel was merely the first part of Rosenstein’s nefarious scheme. Part two constituted one of the most diabolical plots in American political history.
The Attempted Coup
The moment Comey was fired by the president, Rosenstein began meeting secretly with Comey’s temporary replacement, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe (who was later fired for lying). McCabe decided to initiate a new FBI investigation of Trump simultaneous with Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller as special counsel. In other words, they double-teamed Trump even though neither one had a scintilla of evidence to justify their actions.
At the same time, Rosenstein and McCabe convened repeatedly behind closed doors to discuss a plan to evict the duly elected president of the United States from office and undo the 2016 election results. According to McCabe, it was Rosenstein’s idea to depose Trump by secretly recording the president for the purpose of gathering incriminating evidence of something —anything. Armed with such supposed evidence, he would recruit cabinet members to remove Trump under the 25th Amendment
Here is what McCabe later told CBS’s “60 Minutes”:
“The deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House. He said, ‘I never get searched when I go into the White House, I could easily wear a recording device, they wouldn’t know it was there.’ Now, he wasn’t joking, he was absolutely serious, and in fact, he brought it up in the next meeting we had.”
McCabe didn’t stop there in unraveling the sordid story. He explained how Rosenstein intended to use whatever evidence he might gather furtively as a basis for convincing cabinet officials to remove Trump from office.
“Discussion of the 25th Amendment was simply, Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort.”
McCabe claimed that Rosenstein was already “counting votes” among cabinet members he had contacted surreptitiously. Government memos confirm this account, and those documents were handed over to Mueller. Did he do anything about it? Of course not. The special counsel report made no mention of it.
The plot to carry out the equivalent of a coup would have been a lawless misuse of power. The 25th Amendment provides for the removal of a president if he is incapacitated or “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Disliking a president or his decision-making is not a basis for evicting him from office under the amendment.
When the story of Rosenstein’s scheme was later revealed in news reports, he dismissed the story as “inaccurate and factually incorrect.” But in his meticulously worded statement to the media, he did not deny seeking an illegitimate basis for removing Trump. It was a canny misdirection and quite typical of Rosenstein’s propensity for deflection.
In a bid to hang on to his job, Rosenstein arranged a meeting with Trump. Here is what the president told me about their conversation:
President Trump: He (Rosenstein) said it didn’t happen. He said he never said it. What he told other people is that he was joking. But to me, he claimed he never said it.
Jarrett: Did you believe him?
President: I didn’t really know what to believe.
So which was it? A joke or a fiction? Logically, it cannot be both. During which account was Rosenstein telling the truth? In one of them, he must have been lying.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee must grill Rosenstein in detail about his attempted coup to remove the president and subvert democracy.
Spying On Carter Page
The four successive surveillance warrants to spy on former Trump campaign associate Carter Page were serial abuses of constitutional rights and the legal process. Factual assertions submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were not just wrong, they were never validated as true even though the FBI and DOJ officials who signed the documents swore that the information was, indeed, verified. The applications were filled with errors, omissions, deceptions and lies.
Rosenstein signed off on the final renewal in June of 2017 shortly after he wrongfully appointed the special counsel and schemed to depose Trump from office. The deputy attorney general was desperate to come up with some kind of evidence that would justify what he had already done.
The FBI and Rosenstein relied almost entirely on the “dossier” composed by ex-British spy Christopher Steele. It was phony on its face. It was commissioned by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democrats. Newly declassified documents show that it was nothing more than malicious Russian disinformation. By January of 2017, the FBI knew this. Surely, Rosenstein knew it too. All of this was concealed from the judges.
Yet, he affixed his signature on the warrant to spy on Page, thereby representing to the court that the information was both true and verified when he must have known that it was not. Lying to a court constitutes fraud and other potential crimes. Rosenstein was well aware of this, as any lawyer would be.
Consider what he said at a public forum several months after he signed the warrant application:
“In order to get a FISA warrant, you need an affidavit signed by a career law enforcement officer who swears the information is true… And if it is wrong, that person is going to face consequences. You can face discipline and sometimes prosecution.”
Rosenstein’s words frame a prophetic indictment of his own wrongful and, arguably, illegal actions. He swore the information was true and verified. The opposite was true. Rosenstein was acutely aware that the FBI had spent months trying in vain to verify the evidence.
A month after his public remarks, Rosenstein was questioned by the House Judiciary Committee. He refused to answer direct questions but suggested that he might not have even read the warrant application that he signed. Grudgingly, he admitted that he did not always read what he was signing.
It is ironic that the man who so sternly lectured an audience about how imperative it was for every prosecutor to ensure that a spy warrant contained truthful information is the same man who may never have bothered to read the one he signed against Carter Page. Or perhaps he read it but didn’t care about the many lies and misrepresentations contained therein.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee must confront Rosenstein about his warrant application. The Justice Department has stated that it was illegally obtained without probable cause. It has Rosenstein’s dirty fingerprints all over it.
Attorney General William Barr has denounced government officials for their “misconduct,” “malfeasance and misfeasance” and “clear abuse of the FISA process.” Rosenstein was an integral part of it.
Barr has said that officials “misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.”
Rosenstein is far more guilty than others. As the highest-ranking official involved, he had a special and affirmative duty to ensure that the law was being scrupulously followed. His chronic failures and malevolent actions, as described above, constitute an egregious breach of trust.
Come Wednesday, senators in their questioning of Rosenstein should give no quarter in demanding honest answers from a man who has shown no regard for either honesty or justice.