On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will appear before a highly partisan, bitterly divided House Judiciary Committee, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. He’s been summoned by Republicans, mostly allies of President Trump, and it’s expected that Rosenstein will be raked over the coals by the committee’s GOP members, some of whom are likely to push him to wind down the investigation led by Robert Mueller, the Russiagate special counsel—or even to shut it down entirely.
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia inquiry, thanks to his own entanglement in it, Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s number-two official, is the one overseeing Mueller’s office. So it’s Rosenstein who has the power to fire him. Even though Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the first place, has said repeatedly—including last week—that he’s satisfied with Mueller’s work so far, the committee’s GOP hard-liners apparently intend to create a circus-like atmosphere that will provide cover for the president, if and when he decides it’s time to get rid of the special counsel. Those hard-liners include Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Andy Biggs of Arizona; Gaetz has gone so far as to warn that Mueller’s actions could amount to a “coup d’état” against the White House.
Appearing before the Judiciary Committee last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray—appointed to succeed James Comey, who was fired by Trump over, as the president put it in his May interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia”—was blasted by Republican after Republican, who questioned him about alleged prejudicial behavior and wrongdoing by Mueller. Said Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the committee, “We do not know the magnitude of insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team.” (Meanwhile, Goodlatte is pushing for the appointment of a second special counsel, this one charged with investigating the Clintons.) In a classic example of GOP whataboutism, other members of the committee demanding that the FBI ought to be investigating Hillary Clinton rather than Trump, echoing Trump’s own intemperate tweet: “After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters—worst in History!”
There’s no doubt that Trump is readying his counterattack against both Mueller and the FBI, and his allies are egging him on. The erratic president could order the firing of Mueller, close down or defund the Office of the Special Counsel, or pardon those already indicted or in Mueller’s crosshairs. Any of those actions would be guaranteed to provoke a political firestorm and generate serious considerations of impeachment, even among some GOP members of Congress. Trump’s lawyers, no doubt, are counseling him to be patient. But, for the White House, the Mueller investigation has struck at the heart of Team Trump via its December 1 plea agreement with Gen. Michael Flynn. It’s looking like the next target could be Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.