The New York Times reported on Friday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had talked about using the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump past year after the White House was in disarray after the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
"You see what's happening at the FBI-they're all gone, they're all gone", Trump said, in a likely reference to former FBI Director James Comey, who he fired in 2017, and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was sacked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last January.
Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation investigation, also reportedly told McCabe he could potentially persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. He also initiated discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment, which details how the Cabinet can decide whether a president is no longer able to discharge the duties of the office, one of the McCabe memos said.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein instead spent part of the day in scheduled meetings, including "extended" conversation with Trump about recent news stories.
Trump had just fired his Federal Bureau of Investigation director, James Comey, and was pilloried in the press for sharing Israeli intelligence about the ISIS terror army with Russian emissaries in the Oval Office.
The revelation that the No. 2 Justice Department official had even broached those ideas, sarcastically or not, creates greater uncertainty for Rosenstein's job status at a time when Trump has railed against law enforcement leadership as biased against him.
The deputy attorney general's remarks were reported by the New York Times and confirmed by other outlets.
But, he added, "there's a lingering stench, and we're going to get rid of that, too". Mr Trump referred to the "Russia thing" when asked why he was removed.
Despite unrelenting criticism from the White House on the course of the investigation into Russia's election interference, Rosenstein has offered unqualified support for Mueller.
Image Rod Rosenstein denied the New York Times' allegations
McCabe's lawyer, Michael Bromwich, said in a statement that McCabe had 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".
At that point, Rosenstein said to McCabe something to the effect of, "What do you want, you want me to wear a wire?" according to the person.
The Justice Department's rules of succession dictate that the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, is next in line to take over for Rosenstein.
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, told Business Insider last month that he thought Francisco made for an ideal candidate to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
What might happen to any move to impeach Rosenstein in the wake of the Times report is unknown.
The caveat? Both are Fox News hosts adored by Trump - Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.
It has been widely debated whether Trump has the authority to fire Mueller, whose investigation would be overseen by Francisco should he assume Rosenstein's post.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans have targeted Rosenstein in their criticism of the Justice Department's handling of the Russian Federation probe.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement: "This story must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt goal of firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in order to install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the Special Counsel's investigation".
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