Trumpworld divided on Rosenstein – not whether to fire him, but when and how
The disagreement between president’s advisers in the West Wing and those on Fox News aren’t about whether he should, but about timing and stated justification
This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Annie Karni and Eliana Johnson on politico.com on September 22, 2018
Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, once a top recruit to serve as White House press secretary, was early out of the gate on Friday with urgent advice for the president.
“Rod Rosenstein must be fired today,” she tweeted, after The New York Times reported that the deputy attorney general had floated the idea of wearing a wire in the Oval Office and removing the president from office by invoking the 25th Amendment.
Ingraham, one of the 47 feeds that President Donald Trump follows on Twitter, tagged his handle in her tweet to make sure he didn’t miss her edict.
The “fire Rosenstein” sentiment – one she eventually deleted with no explanation – was publicly shared by Fox News colleagues and Trump pals like Judge Jeanine Pirro, as well as other close allies with the president’s ear, who did not walk back their comments.
But Trumpworld is no monolith – despite the perception that Fox News functions as an outside communications shop – and the divisions were on display on Friday as differing opinions were blasted out in an effort to influence the president’s thinking after the bombshell story.
The varied reactions to the story illustrate the president’s dilemma: The West Wing and Trump’s top outside allies may be united in the belief that the president should fire his deputy attorney general, but they are deeply divided about the timing of the action and what the president’s stated cause for the firing should ultimately be.
Later Friday night, Fox News host and Trump adviser Sean Hannity spoke directly to the president on his evening broadcast, giving the opposing view from Ingraham.
“I have a message for the president tonight,” he said. “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody.”
He added: “They're hoping that they can turn this politically into their equivalent of a Friday Night Massacre,” a reference to President Richard Nixon's demand in 1973 that his attorney general fire the special prosecutor leading the Watergate investigation. That act that led to a cascade of resignations at the Department of Justice.
A senior White House official also backed up Hannity’s more cautious tone by warning against any dramatic action. In an interview, the official called Rosenstein a “straight shooter” and said his denial of the facts outlined by The New York Times was believable.
Meanwhile, there was a growing sense inside the West Wing that the story was planted by leakers on former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe’s team, designed to bait Trump into firing Rosenstein ahead of the midterm elections and then suffer the political consequences. A spokesman for McCabe has strongly denied leaking any of his memos to the press.
While Trump allies are unanimous in their view that Rosenstein is highly compromised, they expressed concerns that Democrats could seize on Rosenstein’s dismissal to impeach the president – and that The New York Times may be part of a broader plan, along with anti-Trump government officials, to lure the president into committing an impeachable offence.
The dissension among the president’s strongest supporters underscored again how they are far from one happy family. The talent at Fox News remain intensely competitive with each other. Meanwhile, their advice, delivered personally to Trump or on-air, is often greeted with eye rolls by White House officials working in the West Wing, who dismiss much of what they say as nothing more than self-interested ploys to gain ratings or sell books.
Hannity, according to a source familiar with his thinking, does believe that Trump should fire Rosenstein – eventually. But like other Trump allies, he is pressuring the president that a better strategy than a reaction to a new story is to order him to release all materials related to the Hill investigation that prove there is a deep state opposition to him.
Those allies said they expect Rosenstein would refuse to do so, and that would be a better predicate for his firing than reacting to a news story in what Trump likes to call the “failing New York Times”.
It was also not immediately clear what motivated Hannity’s direct-to-camera plea on Friday night. One close Trump ally noted that Hannity sometimes uses his broadcast to speak directly to the president after the two men, who consult each other often, have had a disagreement on an issue.
The illegal Mueller Witch Hunt continues in search of a crime. There was never Collusion with Russia, except by the Clinton campaign, so the 17 Angry Democrats are looking at anything they can find. Very unfair and BAD for the country. ALSO, not allowed under the LAW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2018
Meanwhile, the “fire Rosenstein” faction of Trumpworld was equally adamant that the president should take action.
“It is clear the president has all the justifications he needs to find a replacement for Rod Rosenstein, and we’ve talked about this almost every of his presidency,” Matt Schlapp, the pro-Trump president of the Conservative Political Action Conference, said in an interview on Saturday. “I do not think there would be negative political consequences to making staff changes at DOJ, like the deputy.”
Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, works in the White House as a top communications adviser.
On Saturday, the White House had yet to issue any official response to the Rosenstein story, and Trump had yet to weigh in on Twitter as the world around him tried to sway his opinion on what to do.