It’s one of the most contentious alleged scenes of the early part of President Trump’s presidency: The idea that high-ranking officials in his administration at one point talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to try to remove him from office.
It’s also a moment we know precious little about, in concrete terms.
On Wednesday, former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein shed some light on the whole thing. While testifying to Congress, Rosenstein was pressed on reporting and claims by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. The allegation is that Rosenstein in 2017 had discussed wearing a wire to record his conversations with Trump and spoke openly about whether the 25th Amendment could be used to get him out of office.
The significance of this moment is that the main protagonist in that scene, Rosenstein, was answering questions about it Wednesday under oath — and penalty of perjury.
Rosenstein offered denials, though one of them seemed carefully worded.
When the topic was first broached, Rosenstein offered a broad denial: “The idea that I was involved in some conspiracy to get the president is ridiculous.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) then asked Rosenstein, “Did you suggest or hint at secretly recording President Trump?”
In this case, Rosenstein directly denied it. “I did not suggest or hint at secretly recording President Trump.”
Hirono then asked Rosenstein, “Have you ever discussed with anyone the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove this president from office?”
Here’s where things get a little more complex. Rosenstein responded, “I have never in any way suggested that the president should be removed from office in the near term.”
That response is far less direct. While Rosenstein was asked whether he discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, his response simply indicated that he had never advocated it. And that’s a key distinction here.
The first mention of this alleged scene came from the New York Times, which reported in September 2018 that Rosenstein had indeed suggested wearing a wire — something he has now denied under oath — and had also discussed the 25th Amendment. The reporting said Rosenstein “discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.” It cited as its source people who “were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by FBI officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.”
McCabe would soon weigh in on all this himself. In a February 2019 interview with “60 Minutes,” he said that Rosenstein “raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other Cabinet officials might support such an effort.” He added that Rosenstein was “definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity and about his intent at that point in time.”
McCabe would temper those comments in the days afterward, saying he felt that Rosenstein was merely “thinking off the top of his head.”
“I at no time got the impression that he’d actually sought support, or talked to those people about it, or asked people, you know, ‘Would you support this?’ or ‘Would you not,’ ” McCabe said.
He added: “It was simply Rod thinking off the top of his head — this is a thing that could be done, are there people that would want to do that?”
There were divergent views about just how serious Rosenstein might have been in the comments, as I wrote at the time:
Rosenstein said at the time that he had never “pursued” either measure, which seemed to allow for the possibility that he has indeed broached them in passing. But now he’s saying that he didn’t even “suggest or hint” at wearing a wire. And his under-oath denial about seeking to remove Trump is very difficult to reconcile with reporting that he brought this up on multiple occasions and had, in McCabe’s words, “discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.”
It’s also at odds with a later-revealed memo that McCabe wrote at the time. In the May 2017 memo, McCabe said that Rosenstein had “proposed that he could potentially wear a recording device into the Oval Office to collect additional evidence on the President’s true intentions.”
Comparing that to what Rosenstein testified to Wednesday, it’s virtually impossible that both could be accurate. And it’s unlikely to be the last we’ll hear about this.
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