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Let’s decode President Trump’s odd tweet confirming he’s under investigation

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” the president tweeted.

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

In a Friday morning tweet, President Donald Trump confirmed a recent Washington Post report that he is now under investigation, misdescribed what that investigation is about, blasted the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and appeared to attack his own deputy attorney general.

This tweet is significant because the president is now openly admitting that he is “being investigated,” after insisting for most of this year, truthfully, that he was not. The investigation into Trump reportedly began shortly after he fired FBI Director James Comey.

And then we get to the inaccuracies.

First off, Trump is not just being investigated for “firing the FBI Director.” He is reportedly being investigated over whether he tried to obstruct law enforcement investigations into his associates or into the Russia matter. James Comey’s firing is part of this scandal, but there’s more to it than that — as you can see in my lengthy timeline of the events at the heart of the obstruction of justice investigation.

Second, by “the man who told me to fire the FBI Director” Trump appears to be referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. And Rosenstein did indeed write a letter to the president harshly criticizing Comey’s conduct and recommending new leadership for the FBI back in May.

But this mischaracterizes what has happened and what is happening. For one, Trump has publicly confirmed that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey and was going to do it regardless of what Rosenstein said, as he told NBC’s Lester Holt last month.

He [Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it!

Furthermore, the problem is not merely that Trump fired Comey. It’s the phony justifications his administration gave for the firing, it’s Trump’s own belated confirmation that a major factor in the firing was the Russia investigation, and it’s the troubling pattern of Trump’s attempts to interfere with investigations into his associates before the firing.

Trump appears to be unhappy with Rod Rosenstein

In any case, Trump’s tweet does appear to be a criticism of his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

It was Rosenstein who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to run the investigation into Russian government interference with the 2016 election — and, importantly, it is Rosenstein who still retains the power to fire Mueller, as President Trump is said to have mused about in recent days.

In fact, Rosenstein recently testified that he believes he is the only person who can fire Mueller and that he believes he’s only permitted to do so for “good cause” (meaning not on a presidential whim). Essentially, this means that if Trump wants Mueller out, he’d have to get rid of Rosenstein too.

Interestingly, Rosenstein got in the news Thursday night for a different reason — he issued a very odd, vague statement warning Americans not to trust “anonymous allegations,” a rather unusual proclamation from the deputy attorney general:

Many speculated that this statement was in response to an anonymously-sourced Washington Post report claiming that Mueller was investigating the business dealings of Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law.

Is Trump giving Rosenstein an earful over leaks? Over Mueller’s investigation in general? Next time the deputy attorney general heads up to Congress to testify, he’ll certainly be asked those questions.