Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein proposed secretly recording conversations in the Oval Office with President Trump last year and discussed the possibility of Cabinet officials invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president, according to a New York Times report.
The bombshell story sparked a political firestorm Friday afternoon, prompting an immediate denial from the Justice Department and sparking calls from conservative circles for Trump to fire his No. 2 law enforcement official.
The Hill reports,
The Times, citing people familiar with the matter, reported on Friday that Rosenstein made comments to other Justice Department officials in meetings in spring 2017 about secretly recording Trump after the president fired FBI Director James Comey that May.
The allegations are said to be laid out in contemporaneous memos written by then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by the Justice Department earlier this year amid an internal leak probe.
Rosenstein is fiercely denying the Times’s account, and reports from other outlets on Friday have offered conflicting pictures of the events, with many characterizing Rosenstein’s comment about a wire on the president as sarcastic.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” Rosenstein said in a statement issued by the Justice Department. “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,” he added.
According to the Times, which cited unnamed sources, Rosenstein made the remarks last year to McCabe, who then detailed the Justice Department official’s comments in memos.
In the discussions, Rosenstein reportedly floated the possibility of recruiting Cabinet members, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff, behind an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.
The amendment allows Cabinet members to trigger the removal of the president by majority vote if they deem the president unfit for office.
There is no evidence that Rosenstein acted on the alleged assertions.
A Justice Department spokeswoman provided a comment to the Times from a person who was said to be present when Rosenstein reportedly suggested wearing a wire. That person, who was not named, said Rosenstein’s remark was made sarcastically.
The Washington Post confirmed later Friday that McCabe’s memos state that Rosenstein suggested surreptitiously recording the president.
However, the Post also cited an unnamed official present for the meeting who claimed the comment was made in jest and that it came in response to McCabe’s own suggestion that the Justice Department open a probe into Trump following Comey’s firing.
Michael Bromwich, an attorney for McCabe, said in a statement after the Times article was published that the former FBI deputy director has “no knowledge” of how his memos were leaked to the media. The lawyer added that the memos have been provided to special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
“Andrew McCabe 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,” Bromwich said.
“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,” Bromwich added. “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.”
McCabe was fired by the Justice Department in March, before a scathing inspector general report concluded that he lied to FBI agents about his unauthorized disclosures to the media. A grand jury has reportedly been convened to examine McCabe’s actions.
The events last year, as reported by the Times, came after Trump fired Comey, a decision that the White House initially attributed to a Justice Department memo written by Rosenstein that faulted the now-former FBI director for his handling of the agency’s investigation into Hillary Clinton‘s private email server.
Comey’s firing sparked a fury of criticism, and eventually resulted in Rosenstein appointing Mueller as special counsel to spearhead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Rosenstein and Sessions have drawn repeated criticism from Trump over the Russia probe, which the president has continually characterized as a “witch hunt” against him.
Despite Rosenstein’s denial, the Times story threatens to further ratchet up tensions between Trump and his top law enforcement officials.
It has already prompted suggestions from conservative circles that the president should fire the deputy attorney general.
“Rod Rosenstein must be fired today,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote on Twitter. “He needs to go. Today.”
News of Rosenstein’s alleged discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment also follow the publication of an anonymous op-ed in the Times earlier this month detailing a “resistance” within the administration dedicated to “thwarting” the president’s “worst inclinations.”
The op-ed, which included claims that Cabinet officials had discussed the possibility of utilizing the 25th Amendment method of removing the president, caused swift denials from dozens of Trump officials in the administration.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, blasted administration officials over the Rosenstein report on Friday.
“Shocked!!! Absolutely Shocked!!! Ohhh, who are we kidding at this point? No one is shocked that these guys would do anything in their power to undermine @realdonaldtrump,” he wrote on Twitter.