Regardless of how the scenarios for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein play out – whether he is fired, resigns, or is forced to leave – his departure would be a threat to the rule of law in the US. It would open new avenues President Trump could exploit to curtail or even end an investigation that threatens his presidency.
Rosenstein has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to preserving the integrity of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with the Trump presidential campaign, an investigation that has already resulted in several convictions.
Rosenstein is under siege because of a story, first reported in the New York Times, that he considered secretly taping Trump and discussed ways to remove him from office. These allegations provide Trump with sufficient reason to do what he has long wanted to do anyway – get rid of Rosenstein. Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the Muller investigation, and has directed scathing criticism at Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from it. He has also made no secret of his contempt for the Southern District of New York investigation into possible violations by Trump’s personal attorney of campaign finance laws by paying “hush money” to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller and maintains authority over the investigation, as well as presumably the investigation in the Southern District of New York. Trump may not have the power to fire Mueller directly, but he does have the power to fire Rosenstein. If he is able to engineer Rosenstein’s replacement with someone more pliable, that would create a dangerous opportunity to derail Mueller’s investigation.
Regardless of Rosenstein’s fate, preserving the integrity of these investigations is crucial. The allegations at the center of both are serious – collusion with a foreign government to interfere in an election, and campaign finance violations aimed at hiding a scandal from the public to influence an election. Respect for the rule of law and an independent judiciary are essential aspects of a functioning democracy.
At one point, the US Congress was considering passing legislation that would make it impossible for the president to unilaterally end the Mueller investigation. If there was ever a time for it to act on that idea, it’s now.