Top Russia probe official ‘suggested taping Trump’, US newspapers say
In his defence, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein insisted The New York Times story was ‘inaccurate and factually incorrect’
The official who oversees the federal investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 US election suggested secretly recording US President Donald Trump last year and recruiting cabinet members to invoke a constitutional amendment to remove him from the White House, The New York Times reported on Friday.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the suggestions in the spring of 2017 after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the newspaper said, citing its sources as people who were briefed on the events themselves or on memos written by FBI officials including Andrew McCabe, who became acting director when Comey was dismissed.
The recording of Trump never happened, the Times said. The Washington Post also reported the discussions, citing memos written by McCabe.
McCabe doesn’t know how the memos were leaked, said his lawyer Michael Bromwich.
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Rosenstein called the Times story “inaccurate and factually incorrect” in a statement in which he also accused anonymous sources of promoting personal agendas.
The White House did not immediately react to the reports, and Trump did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about whether he would fire Rosenstein when he arrived in Springfield, Missouri, for a rally.
Later he alluded to his quarrels with personnel at the Justice Department, telling a packed rally for Republican US Senate candidate Josh Hawley, “Just look at what is being exposed in our Justice Department.”
“We have great people in the Department of Justice … But you’ve got some real bad ones. You’ve seen what’s happened at the FBI. They’re all gone,” he said. “But there’s a lingering stench and we’re going to get rid of that, too.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman provided a statement from a person who would not be identified and was present when Rosenstein proposed wearing a wire to record Trump, the Times said. The person insisted Rosenstein was being sarcastic.
Rosenstein initiated discussions about the US Constitution’s 25th Amendment, the Times and Post reported. The amendment deals with presidential succession and disability and outlines how the cabinet can decide whether a president can no longer do his job.
The Times said Rosenstein told Justice Department and FBI officials the secret recordings could be used to expose the chaos in the administration after revelations that Trump asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him and also shared classified information to Russians in the Oval Office.
Rosenstein has been a frequent punchbag for Trump supporters after he appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017 to take over the federal inquiry into suspected Russian meddling in the US election and potential coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Comey led the investigation until he was dismissed.
The president, who regularly calls the investigation a “witch hunt”, has denied any collusion with Moscow and Russia has denied interfering in the election.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US Senate, said in a statement the newspaper report should not be used as a pretext to fire Rosenstein to install “an official who will allow the president to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation”.
After Rosenstein wrote a memo critical of Comey’s handling of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, Trump used it as a basis for firing Comey. Rosenstein told people he was caught off guard and felt he had been used, according to the Times.
Rosenstein told McCabe, who was also fired by Trump, that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to invoke the 25th Amendment, the Times said. Sessions in March 2017 recused himself from the Russia matter, citing his service on the Trump campaign.