- President Donald Trump, furious over the Michael Cohen raids and surrounded by few moderating voices to control his instincts, appears to be on the cusp of firing the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
- Trump has been simmering at Rosenstein for months, but he is said to view the FBI’s raid of his lawyer as a personal affront and a politically motivated hit job.
- The president’s fury is compounded by his decision to surround himself with those who cater to his rash impulses.
President Donald Trump has come unhinged after the FBI raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer.
And the next person likely to face the chopping block is Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.
The president’s frustration with Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and other top Justice Department officials is not new. But his animosity toward Rosenstein has taken on a new significance as Trump increasingly relies on loyalists, like the conservative firebrands Sean Hannity and Joseph diGenova, and shuns others who may guard against his worst instincts.
Trump is said to have been enraged reports that FBI agents working for the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York raided Cohen’s property on Monday morning, seizing electronic devices, personal financial records, and attorney-client communications.
The Southern District of New York reportedly initiated the Cohen raids after receiving a referral from the special counsel Robert Mueller, most likely because he uncovered evidence of wrongdoing related to Cohen that fell outside the purview of his investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Cohen has at different times been described as Trump’s fixer, “pit bull,” and consigliere. In addition to facing legal scrutiny over possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, Cohen is a subject of interest in at least four investigative threads related to Trump. As the president’s right-hand man, Cohen also has intimate knowledge of Trump’s most closely guarded secret: his finances.
Trump reacted to news of the raids on Monday by lashing out at top DOJ and FBI officials, and he described the investigations as a “TOTAL WITCH HUNT” in a tweet early Tuesday.
In addition to publicly fuming about the news, Trump also privately began wondering whether he should fire Rosenstein, The New York Times reported.
The president’s fury ratcheted up another notch when it emerged that Rosenstein had personally signed off on the FBI’s decision to raid Cohen’s office.
“He takes the Russia stuff as a political hit job,” the news website Axios quoted a source close to Trump as saying. The Cohen raid “was a personal affront” and “the red line,” this person added.
Some of Trump’s legal advisers have also argued that they have a strong case to support Rosenstein’s firing, CNN reported.
According to the report, they believe they can prove that Rosenstein has overstepped his authority and that he is conflicted because he is also a witness in the Russia investigation, given that he recommended Trump fire James Comey as FBI director last year.
‘I’ve never seen him like this before’
- Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The delicate atmosphere in the West Wing is complicated by the fact that many of the voices serving as bulwarks against Trump’s worst impulses have either left or been forced out of his orbit.
H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser who was seen as a moderating influence in the White House, was ousted last month and replaced by John Bolton, the former UN ambassador.
John Dowd, the seasoned defense attorney who was handling Trump’s communications with Mueller’s office, resigned last month from the president’s legal team, reportedly frustrated that Trump was not following his advice. Trump’s personal defense team is now spearheaded by Jay Sekulow, who has appeared frequently on Fox News and has little experience with high-profile criminal-defense cases.
Trump is also said to be increasingly frustrated with the White House counsel, Don McGahn, Axios reported on Wednesday.
McGahn was apparently critical in persuading Trump not to fire Mueller last year – according to The Times, Trump ordered McGahn to dismiss the special counsel in July but backed off when McGahn threatened to resign.
Perhaps the most consequential departure was that of Hope Hicks, the communications director who left last month after facing increased scrutiny over her role in the scandal surrounding Rob Porter, the former staff secretary.
Hicks has been described as the person Trump was closest to and most comfortable with outside of his family, often helping him control his anger amid controversies.
The Cohen raid was “the first crisis post-Hope Hicks,” Axios quoted a source as saying.
“This was different,” that person said. “I’ve never seen him like this before.”
Leaning on more audacious voices
- Getty Images
In addition to moving away from moderating forces, the president is also seeking the company of people who cater to his moods.
The Daily Beast reported last month that Trump dined at the White House with Jesse Watters, a Fox News pundit, and Sebastian Gorka, a controversial former White House aide.
Following news of the Cohen raids on Monday, Hannity led his show by saying, “This is now officially an all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States.”
He added: “Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president.”
Meanwhile, diGenova, the controversial former federal prosecutor who was under consideration to join Trump’s legal team, told Fox News on Monday that Congress should move to impeach Rosenstein and Christopher Wray, the FBI director.
The next day, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, told the conservative commentator Laura Ingraham he was prepared to impeach Rosenstein and Wray if they did not hand over documents he was seeking related to the Russia investigation.
Trump picked up the thread on Wednesday morning.
“No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back), so now they do the Unthinkable, and RAID a lawyers office for information! BAD!” he tweeted.
The president added that the US’s deteriorating relationship with Russia was caused by the Russia investigation, “headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama.”
Trump then slammed Mueller, calling him the “most conflicted of all.”
The only person more conflicted than Mueller, the president said, was Rosenstein.