The Nunes memo has been released — and the conservative drumbeat demanding the firing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is getting louder.
The ad claims that Rosenstein’s “incompetence and abuse of power” have “undermined congressional investigations” and tarnished the reputation of the Justice Department.
It also calls him “a weak careerist at the Justice Department, protecting liberal Obama holdovers and the deep state, instead of following the rule of law.” (Trump appointed Rosenstein to his position in the Justice Department; he had previously served as the longtime US attorney in Maryland. He was appointed to that position by George W. Bush, in 2005.)
The clamor for Rosenstein’s dismissal among Trump allies was all but expected with Friday’s release of the Nunes memo, whose advocates say reveals anti-Trump bias and abuse of power at the highest levels of the FBI and the Justice Department. Many observers believed Trump might use the declassified memo as justification to fire his deputy attorney general — who also happens to be Mueller’s boss.
Rosenstein has overseen the Trump-Russia investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in March; he appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation. Trump has made no secret his disdain for the “Russia hoax,” and he has reportedly questioned Rosenstein’s loyalty to him.
Trump can’t fire Mueller without Rosenstein’s go-ahead. But Trump can fire Rosenstein. The theory goes that Trump could then install a crony in Rosenstein’s place, who could fire Mueller or quash in the Trump-Russia investigation.
Back to the memo: It says that Rosenstein signed off on at least one FISA application to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The memo suggests this was inappropriate because FBI and Justice Department officials relied on the controversial Steele dossier to obtain this warrant. The dossier alleges ties between Trump and Russia; it was compiled by a former British spy and partly funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The memo insinuates (with little hard evidence) that the FBI and Justice Department knew of the “political origins” of the dossier. (It’s been noted, but worth saying again, that Democrats disagree with Nunes’s “misleading” narrative, and the FBI and DOJ strongly objected to its release.) The implication, nevertheless, is that the Trump-Russia investigation, now led by special counsel Robert Mueller, was tainted with political bias from the start.
The Nunes memo proved to be sketchy and underwhelming as far as supposed bombshell revelations go. Yet a coordinated effort to oust Rosenstein is a chilling potential consequence because of what it might mean not just for the Trump-Russia investigation, but for the independence of the Justice Department.
The Tea Party Patriot ad hints that Trump allies are getting fired up about Rosenstein’s fate. Axios reports that though the initial reach of the ad is small for now — “a six-figure spend on digital and TV in Washington D.C.” — it is being passed around conservative circles. Indeed, a conservative movement leader told Axios’s Jonathan Swan that Rosenstein is “becoming a conversation at every conservative gathering.”
Trump, when asked Friday if he was thinking about firing Rosenstein, cryptically told reporters: “You figure that one out.”