“Proceed with caution” is the warning many conservatives are heeding after they seemingly got a massive boon on Friday afternoon. That’s when New York Times reporters Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt released an exclusive story alleging that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — whom President Donald Trump has privately mused about firing for some time — had spoken with other Justice Department officials about secretly recording Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. The conversation allegedly happened in the immediate wake of FBI Director James Comey’s firing.
Rosenstein denied the allegations, calling them “inaccurate and factually incorrect,” while reporters from the Washington Post allege, based on reporting from other sources who were in the room, that Rosenstein was being sarcastic when he made the reported statements.
Many on the right — particularly those close to the president and his most ardent backers, like Fox News host Laura Ingraham (who has since deleted her tweet) — jumped to the expected conclusion that it’s time to fire Rod Rosenstein, with some arguing that his denials weren’t “believable.”
Rod Rosenstein must be fired today. @realDonaldTrump— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) September 21, 2018
Rod Rosenstein needs to go. Immediately.— Ryan Fournier (@RyanAFournier) September 21, 2018
But visible in both the replies to these tweets and the statements of dozens of other conservatives, including many of Trump’s earliest supporters, was a note of caution. Rosenstein’s alleged offenses would seem to make the perfect case that nefarious elements with the government — the so-called “deep state” — have conspired to bring down Trump since the very beginning. But there’s a problem: the source itself.
Can they really believe anonymous sources from the “failing New York Times,” whom many on the right believe to have spread “fake news” previously?
$50 says the people who decry anonymous sources and the NY Times overall will accept the story just published about Rosenstein, no questions asked.— Jay Caruso (@JayCaruso) September 21, 2018
“BEWARE of anything coming out of the New York Times”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has become one of the president’s biggest cheerleaders in Congress, shared the Times’s story with an addendum: “When it comes to President Donald Trump..... BEWARE of anything coming out of the New York Times.”
When it comes to President @realDonaldTrump..... BEWARE of anything coming out of the @nytimes. https://t.co/NR24rVdknw— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) September 21, 2018
And Bill Mitchell, a conservative talk show host who promised that Trump would win the 2016 election with “100% certainty” and has remained a die-hard Trump supporter, tweeted that the story was “just NYTimes unnamed source BS” and told his more than 375,000 followers to “ignore this story.”
Backing up the fact this story is fiction, the story itself says there is no indication Rosenstein ever actually followed through on this.— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) September 21, 2018
It's just NYTimes unnamed source BS. https://t.co/dUvWINcpEa
The skepticism isn’t coming only from Trump’s most dedicated supporters. Others, from mainstream conservatives to members of Congress, noted former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s response regarding the memos referenced in the story. They also called out the fact that the Times’s sources on Rosenstein’s remarks were anonymous, and that the sources weren’t even in the room when Rosenstein allegedly expressed interest in wearing a wire to record the president.
Look, Rod Rosenstein is a high-ranking DOJ official. I think it's safe to say he is familiar with how both the US Constitution and politics work. There is a zero percent chance that he, unlike flatulent media commentators, was seriously floating removal under the 25th Amendment.— Jeff B. (@EsotericCD) September 21, 2018
Even former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who just published a book titled The Deep State: How an Army of Bureaucrats Protected Barack Obama and is Working to Destroy the Trump Agenda, seemed aghast at the allegations against Rosenstein. (Earlier this year, Chaffetz described Rosenstein as having “absolutely no credibility.”)
.@jasoninthehouse on Rod Rosenstein report: “It seems outrageous. I can’t imagine any plausible scenario in which that would even have a chance to be true.” #DailyBriefing pic.twitter.com/nn5lTuqaXH— Fox News (@FoxNews) September 21, 2018
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is close to the president, seemed to strike a similarly cautious tone regarding the allegations. In a statement, he said the anonymous sources are “far from a guarantee of veracity.”
A strikingly reserved statement on Rosenstein by @RepMattGaetz, who is one of Trump’s favorite members of Congress. A signal worth paying attention to. pic.twitter.com/Yww3IP4NKi— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) September 21, 2018
In short, many on the right who believe that the “deep state” is attempting to usurp President Trump and remove him from the White House finally received some evidence to support their claims. But unfortunately for them, the evidence isn’t from declassified FISA orders or even, for the more conspiratorial, from FEMA text messages. It’s from the “failing New York Times” and anonymous sources. And that’s mitigating much of what might otherwise be a breathless call for Rosenstein’s firing.