In the days after FBI Director James Comey’s May 2017 firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed wearing a “wire” to record conversations with President Donald Trump and recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, The New York Times reported Friday.
The extraordinary allegations, depicting a panic-stricken No. 2 official at the Justice Department who has been a target of the President in the past, are outlined in memos authored by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, according to the Times. CNN has not reviewed the memos, but they have been turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Rosenstein issued a rare statement himself forcefully denying the Times report.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. 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,” Rosenstein said in a statement Friday obtained by CNN. “But let me be clear about this: based on my personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
The remarkable details of the memos — whether a wholly accurate reflection of all that transpired or not — could further imperil Rosenstein’s delicate standing within the Trump administration. Rosenstein oversees Mueller’s investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and recently secured the cooperation of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, said in a statement to CNN that his client “drafted memos to memorialize significant discussions he had with high level officials and preserved them so he would have an accurate, contemporaneous record of those discussions.”
“When he was interviewed by the special counsel more than a year ago, he gave all of his memos — classified and unclassified — to the special counsel’s office. A set of those memos remained at the FBI at the time of his departure in late January 2018. He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained those memos,” Bromwich added.
A source who was in the room told CNN that the wire comment was “sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the President.” The Times, however, citing sources who described his comments, said Rosenstein was serious about the idea and followed up suggesting FBI officials interviewing to be FBI director secretly record Trump.
None of Rosenstein’s proposals came to fruition, according to the Times report. The discussions that are referenced occurred just weeks into Rosenstein’s tenure as the No. 2 at the Justice Department, when he had provided the White House with a memo about Comey that was cited in Trump’s decision to fire his FBI director.
The White House did not immediately comment on the Times story.
The President’s son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the story and said: “No one is shocked that these guys would do anything in their power to undermine @realDonaldTrump.”
Rosenstein has been a frequent target of the President, who has called the special counsel’s investigation a witch hunt and a hoax, and House Republicans have threatened to hold the deputy attorney general in contempt or to even impeach him.
In April, CNN reported Trump considered firing Rosenstein in the aftermath of the FBI’s raid on the President’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Trump also suggested he might remove Rosenstein in February after Rosenstein was named in the House Republican memo alleging abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “You figure that one out,” Trump said when asked by reporters in the Oval Office if he was considering firing Rosenstein.
CNN and others previously reported that McCabe has turned over to Mueller his contemporaneous notes on what Comey told McCabe about his private interactions with Trump, McCabe’s own interactions with Trump and McCabe’s impressions of meetings with Rosenstein.
Not long after those reports, Trump said McCabe “never took notes” in meetings and suggested that his memos were “fake.”
“Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me,” Trump tweeted. “I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”
Trump has also painted McCabe as a serial liar. In April, after the Justice Department inspector general released a report damaging to McCabe, Trump promoted the report on Twitter and said it was a “total disaster” for McCabe. Trump added, “He LIED! LIED! LIED!”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe in March over accusations that he had approved other FBI officials speaking with the media about an ongoing investigation into the Clinton Foundation and had misled investigators about his actions.
McCabe has fiercely disputed the findings of the Justice Department’s inspector general, but he is still under criminal investigation by the US Attorney’s Office in DC.