Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested last year that he covertly record the president in the White House and discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office, The New York Times reported Friday.
The move will almost certainly reopen President Donald Trump’s considerations into firing him.
Rosenstein’s comments were reportedly made in the spring of 2017 in light of Trump firing James Comey as FBI director and sharing classified intelligence with the Russians. They were relayed to the Times by unnamed sources who say they were either briefed on the comments or on memos written by FBI officials that detailed them.
Though none of Rosenstein’s efforts apparently materialized, the Times’ sources said he hoped to recruit Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly to help invoke the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal of a president deemed unfit for office.
Sources speaking to ABC News also alleged that Rosenstein took those steps to consider invoking the 25th amendment.
His strategy for recording Trump ― an effort aimed at exposing the chaos in the White House ― involved asking FBI officials being interviewed to replace Comey as FBI director to wear wires during their conversations with the president, the sources said.
However, a source in the room during the wire-wearing conversation who requested anonymity told HuffPost that Rosenstein’s suggestion was made in jest.
“I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment,” the source said. “The statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president.”
Rosenstein denied the report in a statement to the Times.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
Rosenstein later released an additional, stronger statement: “I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false.”
The Times did not disclose whether its sourcing came from the Trump camp — but a story about Rosenstein mounting a campaign to overthrow the president will almost certainly be used by Trump to float the idea of firing Rosenstein.
Trump has long sought ways to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia and the 2016 election. The president claims the probe is a witch hunt carried out by his political opponents. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, the authority to fire Mueller rests with Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Trump has openly suggested firing Mueller himself — and quietly discussed firing Rosenstein and replacing him with a political ally who would get rid of Mueller.
Either of those moves would look like a blatant abuse of power. If Trump does decide he wants to fire Rosenstein, the president will look for any justification to do so — like casting Rosenstein as part of a “deep state” effort to undermine his administration.
The narrative of Rosenstein as a subversive working within the Justice Department to thwart the president would feed into Trump and his allies’ conspiratorial narrative that he is battling a “deep state” of political foes working to undermine him.
The report comes about two weeks after an anonymous op-ed in the Times by an author identified only as “a senior official in the Trump administration” claimed high-level officials under the president have been actively working to combat his controversial policies and erratic behavior, including by raising the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.
This story has been updated with more details about the Rosenstein report and comments from others who heard the remarks.