Thursday is shaping up to be a busy day in D.C., and very likely one for the history books. The dueling testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may affect the Court’s impact for decades, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s meeting with President Trump may have a profound impact on the Mueller investigation and future of the Trump administration. That both events are happening on the same day is extraordinary.
Regarding Rosenstein’s status, it’s hard to know what to expect. Any situation where he is no longer Deputy AG puts the Mueller investigation on shaky ground, and creates the risk we never find out exactly how far Russia went in attacking our democracy and everyone helped them.
To be clear, getting fired and resigning are not the same thing here, and each situation could play out quite differently in the court of public opinion. If Rosenstein resigns, it will probably be viewed as an admission he actively considered taping the president and trying to remove him from office. Anyone who’s been a manager will understand the idea of wanting someone undermining them out of office, and the fact Rosenstein’s responsibility is truly to the law (and not the President) will become muddied in the argument.
If Rosenstein does resign, and it plays as an admission of guilt, the calls to treat the Mueller investigation as ‘tainted’ and end it will begin immediately. The next person in line to oversee the investigation is Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who used to work at a firm that represented part of Trump’s business. Needless to say, the fear he’ll run defense for Trump by ending or slowing the investigation is a very real one.
(FWIW, I find it impossible to believe the 25th Amendment hasn’t crossed the minds of Rosenstein and anyone else in this administration who still places country over party. After all the President’s actions and temper tantrums, being an ‘adult in the room’ by definition requires that train of thought. Whether or not Rosenstein said or planned to act on it is of course a completely different matter.)
Trump fires Rosenstein
But if Rosenstein is fired – and for the record I will be very disappointed if he offers his resignation knowing what it could mean – that’s going to look bad for Trump and Republicans in November. Even if it was justified, it’s going to come off as the type of thing you expect to read about in tin pot dictatorships.
538’s Perry Bacon makes the persuasive argument Trump’s predecessors would also fire someone in this situation. I’m not sure if that’s true, but clearly this President’s public obsession with the DOJ alters the politics and potential for fallout. If a resignation looks like an admission of guilt, then a firing adds more fuel to the obstruction claims and ‘what are you hiding’ file in people’s minds.
So what will happen? A more crafty version of Donald Trump would make a big show of not firing Rosenstein because there’s no proof he did anything wrong…setting the stage for Friday’s rushed Supreme Court vote when Republicans use the same justification to vote yes on Kavanaugh. Then fire Rosenstein after the midterms.
But I don’t think Trump’s that smart, and I think Rosenstein is. At this point he likely has a plan to either save his job or get fired trying. Maybe Rosenstein has information ready to go public and discredit the administration, or maybe he persuades Trump he’s a friend playing a role for the public. If Kim Jong-un can continue building nuclear weapons while convincing Trump they’re buddies, Rosenstein can probably sway his opinion too.
How will it all play out?
Republican politicians have an innate ability to believe their own talking points over things like polling, math and common sense. So if I had to, I’d bet on Trump agreeing before the meeting with recommendations not to fire Rosenstein, and then changing his mind after watching some Fox News hosts rail against him. We know Trump’s seething that the Department of Justice is focused on the Constitution and not protecting his personal interests, and undoubtedly views the New York Times story as his chance to make a change and appear tough at the same time.
Of course, with Trump being Trump, presumably he’ll fire Rosenstein in the most cowardly way possible. My guess is he won’t say anything to Rosenstein’s face and announce the firing on Twitter once he’s out of the building.
Will Dr. Blasey’s and Kavanaugh’s hearings affect how this plays out Thursday? Hard to say. If things go really poorly for Kavanaugh and Lisa Murkowski or Jeff Flake announce soon after they’ll vote no on the nomination, I could see Trump wanting to make a show of force. That may seal Rosenstein’s fate before the meeting even happens. But in the more likely scenario where there’s gray area after the hearings – imagine cable news saying Blasey was poised and credible but unsure if she changed any votes – it may not have an immediate effect.
Let’s say the worst happens. Trump does fire Rosenstein Thursday or in the following days. And Kavanaugh is confirmed on a party-line vote despite Dr. Blasey’s convincing testimony and more public comments from second accuser Deborah Ramirez.
Despite Republicans believing Fox News’ spin on how brave and wonderful they are, the public won’t forget. In that situation, a little over a month from now Republicans will be shocked that take them to task at the ballot box, with Democrats retaking the House by a very strong margin and Senate by 1-2 seats.
The end result of this chaotic week (and the first two years of the Trump administration) will be a very conservative Supreme Court that slows American progress and justice for a generation; but a much bigger #bluewave in November that grinds the next two years of the Trump administration to a halt.
As a left-leaning voter, I won’t consider that a win, mainly because I think we’re going to take the House and be very close in the Senate under any circumstances. However, I think a lot of the hard core conservative Evangelical base will gladly take it.
I’d like to be proven wrong in the coming days. What do you think will happen?