Why The Media Should Have Waited To Report On Rod Rosenstein’s “Resignation”
How clickbait journalism and a poorly sourced report led the nation to believe Rod Rosenstein was about to be fired.
Rod Rosenstein Has Submitted His Resignation
Rod Rosenstein Is Heading To The White House Expecting To Be Fired
These headlines threw the media into a frenzy this morning, as the fate of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation appeared to be hanging in the balance.
First, it was Jonathan Swan at Axios who reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Then, several other news organizations began to report that Rod Rosenstein had not submitted his resignation but was expecting to be fired.
This report that Rosenstein has resigned came after last week’s New York Times report which claimed Rosenstein mused about wearing a wire when talking to President Trump and suggested invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office. However, numerous other news organizations reported that their sources claimed Rod Rosenstein was actually being sarcastic. The Times report appeared to suffer from the same affliction Swan’s report did: relying too heavily on Trump administration sources without being wary of their motivations.
As my colleagues at Rantt and I began to parse through the developments, it became clear there were too many conflicting narratives. It was far too soon to report on this.
The White House is telling one story and the Justice Department is telling another about Rod Rosenstein.
Verdict: No one has any idea exactly what has happened yet.
I’m seeing Comey letter style coverage here.
I’ll wait until the facts are straight to write my article on this. https://t.co/vC93L1eqU0
— Ahmed Baba (@AhmedBaba_) September 24, 2018
The Comey letter comparison is relevant because, in the immediate aftermath of James Comey releasing his letter about the discovery of emails relevant to the Clinton server investigation 11 days before the 2016 presidential election, the media went wild jumping to conclusions. The same thing happened here, with the exception of NBC’s Pete Williams.
Pete Williams has been the only reporter who has accurately depicted all the angles and conflicting narratives that he’s been hearing about Rod Rosenstein, expertly outlining the various possibilities to viewers rather than leaning too heavily on one source.
— Ahmed Baba (@AhmedBaba_) September 24, 2018
It was later revealed, as we suspected, that Rod Rosenstein will not be fired today.
Sanders: Rosenstein still on job and will meet with Trump later this week (a source told me earlier that Rosenstein was there for previously scheduled meeting) pic.twitter.com/adjJzvdxQ7
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) September 24, 2018
And even further, this leak may have been a distraction.
Gabe Sherman reports that the Rosenstein leak appears to have been a “smoke bomb” to knock Kavanaugh out of the news. “The strategy was to try and do something really big,” said a source familiar with Trump’s thinking. https://t.co/wWRGXJZBHA
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) September 24, 2018
One of Rantt’s guiding principles is that getting the scoop is not nearly as important as getting the story right. After we saw what happened in the 2016 election, we’ve prided ourselves on waiting until stories fully develop before writing about them. This way, we never get caught up in pushing the White House’s narratives.
Below is context and analysis I had previously written in preparation for Rosenstein’s firing. You can read it to see why it’s important for him to stay on as Deputy Attorney General, what would happen if he were to be fired, and why it would be politically foolish for Trump to fire Rosenstein ahead of the midterms.
The Context: For over a year, President Donald Trump has been eager to fire Rod Rosenstein. Trump has been obsessive in his efforts to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in American democracy and their potential conspiracy with the Trump campaign to win the 2016 election (which Rosenstein oversees).
From their false FISA surveillance scandal to their hearing with FBI Agent Peter Strzork to the effort to oust Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump, House Republicans, and conservative media tried to thwart the Mueller probe, which the President is a subject of. This effort has expanded into a broad initiative to discredit the DOJ, FBI, and the U.S. Intelligence Community as a whole.
The investigation Trump has been trying to undermine, which President Trump called a witch hunt on the world stage, is a multi-faceted counterintelligence investigation that probes Russian interference, the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia, and potential obstruction of Justice on the part of President Trump. It also probes financial crimes on the part of Trump’s associates as well as international corruption involving Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc.
All five of Trump’s associates who have been charged with crimes during his presidency have now pleaded guilty and cooperated with federal investigators. Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea implicated Trump in two campaign finance felonies.
President Trump is plagued by multiple federal investigations and lawsuits.
- Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.
- The Southern District of New York’s investigation into Trump’s former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen
- The Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into the Trump Organization
- The New York Attorney General’s investigation into the Trump Foundation
- Emoluments clause lawsuits
- Stormy Daniels and Summer Zervos lawsuits
The Analysis: President Trump’s endeavor to obstruct justice spans several months and includes efforts to fire Mueller as well as Rosenstein. Noel Francisco, who has some noteworthy thoughts on executive power and the President’s authority to fire officials, would be set to act as Deputy Attorney General. However, he has a conflict of interest given his representation of the Trump campaign.
This is key because due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, the Deputy Attorney General has the power to intervene and challenge Mueller’s actions, prematurely end the probe, and/or limit its scope. The Deputy AG has power over Mueller’s report. After Mueller completes his obstruction of justice and conspiracy reports, he’ll then hand the reports over to the Deputy AG, who will then choose whether or not to release publicly and/or refer to Congress in the form of an impeachment referral.
The Senate previously crafted legislation that would give added protections to Mueller if he were to try and be fired, but it didn’t go far enough to protect Rosenstein or put protections in place for Mueller if his replacement meddles in the probe. Needless to say, this bill must be expanded and passed. Put it on President Trump’s desk and force him to veto it.
How a Rosenstein firing would play out politically is another matter entirely. President Trump’s war on the Department of Justice and Special Counsel Robert Mueller has become a centerpiece of his political platform. Trump spends more time bashing the Mueller investigation than he does promoting his policy agenda. We now have multiple polls that tell a similar story. His attacks on Mueller are backfiring. There was already evidence that indicates the Republican Party itself is shrinking, and now we have evidence that Trump’s base is shrinking down to his most staunch supporters.
With Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and President Trump’s meeting with Rod Rosenstein, Thursday will be interesting.