Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested last year that he should make covert audio recordings of President Trump in order to build a case for removing him from office, according to a New York Times report.
Rosenstein denies it, and a Justice Department official who was reportedly in the room when Rosenstein talked about using the 25th Amendment to end the Trump presidency says he was being sarcastic.
That account agrees with a Fox News report based on sources who were in the room and said the meeting took place May 16, 2017.
The 25th Amendment allows for a majority of the president’s cabinet, or ‘such other body as Congress may by law provide,’ to decide if an Oval Office occupant is unable to carry out his duties – and then to put it to a full congressional vote.
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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (right) reportedly talked with FBI officials including then-acting director Andrew McCabe about wearing a wire to secretly record President Donald Trump, in order to build a case for removing him from office
Rosenstein is dismissing a New York Times report about his alleged plotting, and says he has no basis to think Trump should be the recipient of a 25th Amendment coup
Reports emerged Friday that then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was in the room when Rosenstein uncorked his idea, and an Obama-era DOJ spokesman hinted that he might have planted the story
Matthew Miller called the Times story the result of a ‘dangerous game’ McCabe is playing while he is himself under federal investigation
Fox also reported that then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and FBI lawyer Lisa Page were in the room when Rosenstein raised the subject.
Page had been half of the infamous texting romantic-affair couple who mused in 2016 about how to ‘stop’ Trump from becoming president.
An Obama-era Justice Department spokesman suggested Friday afternoon that McCabe leaked the story to the Times.
‘Dangerous game Andy McCabe is playing right now,’ Matthew Miller tweeted.
McCabe is himself facing a federal probe over allegations that he misled investigators about the sources of press leaks; Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him this year.
The 25th Amendment has never been used to remove a U.S. president, but it has been in the news with unprecedented regularity during the Trump administration.
Sixteen days ago the Times published an unsigned opinion essay from a purported senior administration official who claimed the Constitution’s procedure for firing a president was discussed quietly in the first days of Trump’s tenure.
‘Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president,’ the author wrote. ‘But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.’
Donald Trump Jr. had a different take on Friday, casting the Times report as substantially true and evidence of a cabal out to hamstring his father.
‘Shocked!!! Absolutely Shocked!!!’ the president’s eldest son tweeted. ‘Ohhh, who are we kidding at this point?’
‘No one is shocked that these guys would do anything in their power to undermine @realdonaldtrump.’
Friday’s explosive allegation, based on unnamed sources, stems from a period of time when the White House seemed to ratchet up its chaos level with each day.
Trump had just fired his FBI 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.
And Rosenstein, the Times reports, thought the president had turned him into a patsy by leaning heavily on a memo he wrote when he swung the axe at Comey.
Trump had asked him to summarize the reasons he could use for firing Comey; Rosenstein reportedly never expected his response to be made public.
As a result, Rosenstein began recruiting Cabinet members to execute on a future 25th Amendment plan and suggesting that FBI officials who were on Trump’s short list to replace Comey could make clandestine tapes of their job interviews with Trump.
Rosenstein was at the time acting as the de facto attorney general on matters related to the longstanding probe of alleged ties between Russian agents and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Sessions had already recused himself from those mattters since he had been a campaign adviser and could be a fact witness in the investigation.
Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer, was also reportedly in the room with Rosenstein and McCabe when the idea of secretly taping Trump came up
Rosenstein said Friday in a statement to reporters: ‘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. 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 Times reports that Rosenstein never actually recorded conversations with Trump.
The newspaper’s sources said Rosenstein spoke about a constitutionally director bloodless coup with Andrew McCabe, who was acting FBI director after Comey’s ouster.
McCabe reportedly memorialized the conversations in written memos that included notes about Rosenstein’s desire to recruit Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to help bring a 25th Amendment plan to fruition.
Rosenstein, according to the Times, had said recording an Oval Office discussion would be easy because White House staff never checked his cell phone before he entered.
WHAT DOES THE 25TH AMENDMENT SAY? CAN TRUMP’S CABINET REALLY TOPPLE HIM?
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with presidential authority in the event of death or removal from office, and was ratified in 1967.
What does the 25th Amendment say?
The first of four sections states that the vice president takes over the Oval office if the president dies or resigns – or is removed – something which the original Constitution did not clearly state.
Presidents can be removed by impeachment or through the 25th Amendment, which the Constitution’s framers included as aless dishonorable way of discharging a gravely ill chief executive.
Section II states that if the vice president dies or resigns – or is fired – both the House and Senate have to confirm a new vice president, whose only real constitutional duty is to serve as president of the Senate.
Section III makes clear that the a president can temporarily delegate his powers to the vice president, and later reclaim them when he is capable of serving. This is most often invoked if a president is under the influence of surgical anaesthetic for a short period of time.
Section IV is featured in the op-ed, and is the amendment’s most controversial part.
It describes how the president can be removed from office if he is incapacitated and does not leave on his own.
The vice president and ‘a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide’ must write to both the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, saying that ‘the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’
Practically speaking, this means at least eight of the president’s 15 most senior Cabinet members, together with the vice president, must agree that a president should be removed before any plan can move forward.
Notifying the House Speaker and the Senate president pro tempore is the act that immediately elevates the vice president to an ‘acting president’ role.
The deposed president can contest the claim, giving the leaders of the bloodless coup four days to re-assert their claims to the House and Senate.
Congress then has two days to convene – unless it is already in session – and another 21 days to vote on whether the president is incapable of serving. A two-thirds majority in both houses is required to make that determination.
If Congress can’t reach that threshold within 21 days, the president regains his powers. If it can, his powers go back to the vide president and he is dismissed from office.
What could happen to trigger the 25th Amendment?
Vice President Mike Pence and eight of the 15 ‘principal’ Cabinet members would have to agree to notify Congress that President Donald Trump was incapable of running the country.
That group inludes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Their formal notification would go to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who holds the title ‘president pro tempore’ as the Senate’s most senior member. As soon as the letter is sent, Pence would become ‘acting president.’
What if Trump does not agree?
If Trump claims he iscapable of holding office, he would write to Hatch and Ryan within four days, setting up three weeks of intense debate in both houses of Congress.
Trumpn would be removed from office if both two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate agreed with Pence and his cabal. If either of both chambers fell short of that mark, Trump would retain his powers and likely embark on a wholesale housecleaning, firing Pence and replacing disloyal Cabinet members.
Are there any loopholes?
The 25th Amendment allows Congress to appoint its own panel of experts to evaluate the president instead of relying on the Cabinet – the men and women who work most closely with Trump – to decide on acourse of action.
It specfies that some ‘other body as Congress may by law provide’ could play that role, but Pence would still need to agree with any finding that the president is incapable of discharging his duties.
If Democrats were to take over both the House and Senate, they could create such a panel with simple majority votes.
That commission could hypothetically include anyone from presidential historians to psychiatrists, entrusted to assess the president’s fitness for office.
Could Trump fire Pence if he rebelled?
Yes, in principle. If Trump smelled a whiff of trouble – if Pence and a panel assembled by Congress seemed ready to judge him incapacitated – he could dismiss his vice president with the stroke of a pen to stop the process.
But installing a more loyal VP could be problematic since the 25th Amendment includes its own poison pill: Both houses of Congress must vote to approve a new vice president.
That means Trump would find himself up against the same Congress that started the ball rolling, unless the process were to unfold in the weeks before a new Congress is seated on January 3, 2018.
Theoretically, a Democrat-controlled Congress could make life dramatically more difficult for the president if it came into power in the midst of the constitutional crisis.
One scenario has appeared to stump presidnetial historians, however: Firing Pence before the process is underway, and then leaving the vice presidency vacant, would give Congress no practical way forward.
Is there any precedent for this?
No. Only Section III, the voluntary surrender of presidential powers, has ever been given serious consideration,
In December 1978, President Jimmy Carter thought about invoking Section III when he was contemplating a surgical procedure to remove hemorrhoids. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all considered it during their terms in office, but none did.
Section IV has also never been invoked, although there have been claims that White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan told his successor, Howard Baker, in 1987 that he should be prepared to invoke it because President Ronald Reagan was inattentive and inept.
The PBS documentary ‘American Experience’ recounts how Baker and his team watched Reagan closely for signs of incapacity during their first meeting and decided he was in perfect command of himself.