Trump Asked Deputy Attorney General If He Was “On My Team”

CNN is reporting this afternoon that President Trump appears to have asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for a loyalty pledge in what appears to be yet another attempt to undermine the investigation into his 2016 campaign and Russian interference in the election:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December seeking President Donald Trump’s help. The top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation wanted Trump’s support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel’s Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was “on my team.”

The episode is the latest to come to light portraying a President whose inquiries sometimes cross a line that presidents traditionally have tried to avoid when dealing with the Justice Department, for which a measure of independence is key. The exchange could raise further questions about whether Trump was seeking to interfere in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia and obstruction of justice by the White House.

At the December meeting, the deputy attorney general appeared surprised by the President’s questions, the sources said. He demurred on the direction of the Russia investigation, which Rosenstein has ultimate authority over now that his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has recused himself. And he responded awkwardly to the President’s “team” request, the sources said.”

Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” Rosenstein told Trump, the sources said. It is not clear what Trump meant or how Rosenstein interpreted the comment.

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story. The White House did not comment.

Rosenstein’s meeting with the President came as Rosenstein prepared to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Trump appeared focused on Rosenstein’s testimony, according to a source briefed on the matter, and he brought it up with the deputy attorney general.

As a further sign of the President’s focus on Rosenstein’s testimony, one of the sources said Trump also had suggested questions to members of Congress that they could ask Rosenstein.

One line of inquiry Trump proposed lawmakers ask about was whether Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election because Mueller was not selected as FBI director. CNN has reported that Trump has been venting to his aides about Rosenstein in recent weeks and even raised the possibility of his removal. Sources say Trump believes Rosenstein was upset Mueller wasn’t selected as FBI director and responded by making him special counsel. It does not appear those questions were asked of Rosenstein at the hearing.

Rosenstein’s December 13 appearance before the committee included strong backing for Mueller. He also pushed back at Democrats’ questions about the President’s demands for loyalty.

“As long as you are following your oath of office, you can also be faithful to the administration,” he testified.

At the hearing, Rosenstein repeatedly declined to say whether Trump had ever asked him about the Russia Investigation. But he testified that he never received any “improper orders” from Trump and denied that anyone ever asked him to pledge his loyalty, dating back to his time in the Bush administration.

“Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge, other than the oath of office,” Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein, of course, is a key player in the ongoing Russia investigation and has been ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from supervising the investigation due to his involvement with the Trump campaign and the fact that he had contact with the Russian Ambassador to the United States prior to Trump becoming President. When Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey, it was Rosenstein who drafted the memo that purported to justify Comey’s firing based on his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and her handling of classified material. Within days, of course, Trump essentially admitted that he fired Comey due to the Russia investigation. It was subsequent to these events that Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russia matter, and there have been numerous reports since then that Trump was particularly frustrated with that decision as well as the fact that Sessions had originally recused himself to begin with. Additionally, in recent weeks Rosenstein has come under attack by Trump and Trump surrogates and there have been some suggestions that Trump was considering removing him from office.

This isn’t the first time that President Trump has shown an obsession with loyalty from people who are tied to the legal system. In February of last year in an Oval Office meeting, Trump asked F.B.I. Director James Comey for a loyalty pledge a conversation that made Comey uncomfortable enough to begin memorializing his conversations with the President up until the point he was fired. Over the summer we learned that he considered withdrawing the nomination of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch because he was concerned about his loyalty to the White House, but ultimately backed off at the urging of his White House Counsel. And, most recently, we learned that he asked Associate F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe, who had briefly served as Director in the wake of Comey’s firing and took early retirement this week after coming under fire from Trump, who he had voted for in the 2016 Presidential election. All of this shows an unhealthy obsession with loyalty on the President’s part, especially when it comes from people who are in positions in which it would be entirely inappropriate for them to pledge such loyalty. On some level, you would have thought that someone would have had a discussion with Trump about this already. Of course, maybe they did and he just isn’t listening.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Doug Mataconis, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Davebo says:

    You could literally blog 24 hours a day and not keep up with all the stories out in the past 72 hours.




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  2. al-Ameda says:

    I predict that Republicans will become ‘concerned’ after their agenda is implemented, and/or if Democrats manage to win back control of either the Senate or the House.

    Right now they do not care at all.




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  3. CSK says:

    I can’t make up my mind whether Trump simply doesn’t understand, and will never understand, that being president isn’t the same thing as being head of a sleazy, rickety, mob-subsidized family-run shady real estate empire, where everyone swears unconditional fealty to the boss, or that he does understand that there’s a BIG difference, and it simply doesn’t matter to him.

    On balance, I think it’s the former. The man is so thoroughly imbued in corruption–created and augmented by his own basic stupidity, narcissism, and insecurity–that he believes this is how one should be president.




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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    “Tonight,” he said, “I call on the congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

    From the SOTU. Guess he wants to have free reign to eliminate those pesky DoJ officials who are investigating him.

    HT Slate




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  5. SenyorDave says:

    Its not Trump that is normalizing these things, its McConnell and Ryan who is to blame. IMO it is mainly McConnell. Ryan is just a pissant grifter, but McConnell is smarter and knows better. He just does anything for power, the country be damned. A truly disgusting excuse for a human being.




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  6. James Pearce says:

    All of this shows an unhealthy obsession with loyalty on the President’s part, especially when it comes from people who are in positions in which it would be entirely inappropriate for them to pledge such loyalty.

    I’m not comfortable with Trump’s loyalty pledges, but I also recognize this is how Trumpism sinks its hooks in and never lets go.

    Maybe instead of going “Ewwww, loyalty,” the anti-Trump forces should find someone or something they can be loyal to.




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  7. al-Ameda says:

    @SenyorDave:

    Its not Trump that is normalizing these things, its McConnell and Ryan who is to blame. IMO it is mainly McConnell. Ryan is just a pissant grifter, but McConnell is smarter and knows better. He just does anything for power, the country be damned. A truly disgusting excuse for a human being.

    Holding over a Supreme Court vacancy for over one year in the hope that Trump would win and Republicans would win the Senate
    When McConnell did that, and gamed the system and declined to do the minimum and run the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland through Committee Hearings (let alone a full vote on the floor), he broke with a 150 year tradition of NOT doing that kind of toxic bullsh**.




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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: From a POLITICO story, via Kevin Drum, there is an old Chinese phrase we all ought to learn, jiatianxi.

    After the summit, the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.” The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”




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  9. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    It’s a good point, but I think most of us have already observed that Trump treats the U.S. as his personal fiefdom, and that he doesn’t so much play the warring factions around him as much as he gets played by them. Everyone knows that the more oleaginously you flatter Trump, the more he’s inclined to heed you.




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  10. Kathy says:

    @CSK: That’s also probably how he thinks everyone else has been president.




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  11. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    To the extent he thinks about them at all, other than desperately trying to reassure himself that he’s the greatest president of all time.




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  12. Scott says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Every civil servant heard that last night and took it as a threat. Clearly, a professional and non partisan civil service not filled with boot lickers are anathema to this narcisistic, classless pig.




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  13. An Interested Party says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Yet another lie from Il Douche, because if he really believed what he said, he would remove himself from office as he has definitely undermined the public trust and failed the majority of the American people…




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  14. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    I can’t make up my mind whether Trump simply doesn’t understand, and will never understand, that being president isn’t the same thing as being head of a sleazy, rickety, mob-subsidized family-run shady real estate empire, where everyone swears unconditional fealty to the boss, or that he does understand that there’s a BIG difference, and it simply doesn’t matter to him.

    Once again, I cannot recommend more the Vox piece from 2016 about Trump’s relationship with the truth. Its basic thesis is that to ask what Trump “believes” is to commit a category error, because the man holds no fixed beliefs, and most of what comes out of his mouth is simply part of a dominance game where he isn’t even attempting to describe the world as he sees it–or even as he doesn’t see it. In other words, he barely pays attention to the truth value of his statements, because it’s of no concern to him.

    Applying that to the current situation, I don’t think he cares about “succeeding” as president in a conventional sense. What he cares about is the adulation he receives from his adoring mob of fans. One might think he’d at least have more of a self-preservation instinct, but according to his gut sense the way he’s behaving now–and he really doesn’t know how to behave any other way–has served him well up to now, so he sees no reason to take a different path. His entire career has consisted of cheating, lying, bluffing, making outlandish boasts, and trying to intimidate whoever gets in his way regardless of whether or not he actually holds the cards to be issuing such threats. And while a rational person might conclude that hasn’t always helped him (as his multiple bankruptcies attest to), in his eyes it’s gotten him just about everything he wants, and more.

    In short, I doubt he spends even a few moments contemplating (and the notion of Trump “contemplating” anything is almost a contradiction in terms) what being a president “means.” He’s operating on the same gut level that he always has, where his goal is to “win,” which tends to mean little more than drawing a line of x’s across his personal tic-tac-toe board and declaring victory.




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  15. Kathy says:

    People who demand pledges of loyalty know they are incapable of earning it, and that they don’t deserve loyalty.




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  16. Mister Bluster says:

    @James Pearce:..the anti-Trump forces should find someone or something they can be loyal to.

    The United States Constitution




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  17. Franklin says:

    @James Pearce: James James James James … I only need to know one thing from you: are you on my team?




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  18. KM says:

    @gVOR08 :

    L’etat c’est moi. Or to quote the Joker “You work for me now”

    Loyalty pledges mean nothing. Look at how many criminals swear omertà and then rat to the cops or rivals. How many bodyguards have turned on their protectee or even been the assassin themselves. People that sign NDAs and then choose to take the hit so the dirt comes to light. A pledge isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if the incentives are no longer there.

    You cannot demand loyalty. You need to earn and then work to keep it. If there’s a bunch of warring cliques that you can’t control, that’s on you as a leader. Trump not only can’t control it, he LIKES it that way. He thinks if they are too busy knifing each other his back is safe. Too bad that’s never worked. Someone’s going to get smart and realize the way to win is to take the king, not the knight or bishop. They can be just as “loyal” to President Pence, after all……




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  19. James Pearce says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    The United States Constitution

    Good answer, but I’ll challenge it anyway. Not only is it a little trite, with shades of Kazir Khan, but you’re not going to be loyal to a document. If anything, you’re going to be loyal to a particular interpretation of the document….think Penecostals versus Presbyterians, who consult the same document but interpret it very differently.

    At any rate, I’ve thought about it some more and I don’t think I want loyalty anymore. No more Bushes. No more Clintons. No more Kennedys.

    @Franklin:

    I only need to know one thing from you: are you on my team?

    Probably not. I’m from the Ricky Roma school of public opinion. Someone told me that skepticism is a virtue.

    “I doubt it,” I said.




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  20. James Pearce says:

    @KM:

    You cannot demand loyalty.

    Sure, you can. The criminal underworld would barely function were it not for demanded loyalty.




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  21. Franklin says:

    @James Pearce: Thanks for that response, I needed the laugh.




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  22. KM says:

    @James Pearce:
    Let me rephrase that: you’re a fool to trust demanded loyalty. Believe an asskisser at your own risk. As I mentioned, omertà gets broken all the time both in the actual mafia and other gangs. Few start out expecting to be snitches or moles and yet they happen fairly regularly. In fact, the whole concept of demanded loyalty proves it’s not loyalty , it’s “do what I say or else” and most people don’t want to find out what the “else” is personally. Coercive obedience only works until something comes along that renders it moot

    What’s more, in gangs you’re supposed to be loyal to the *gang*, not the boss – someone who can be replaced at a moment’s notice. A smart boss understand the majority of the underlings aren’t personally loyal to him and will serve the guy that takes him out. Anybody you have to coerce into “loyalty” is someone who might knife you for the guy they’re really loyal to. How do you know they really mean their pledge? You don’t – again, anybody with enough brains to rise to power in a gang realizes this.

    Team Trump has more leaks then a screendoor liferaft because he thinks he’s got omertà and they’re thinking “keep my mouth shut till I get what I want”. How many swear to his face they’re his guy and are documenting everything as a CYA? How many opportunists lie about their loyalty to get in on the grift? They don’t mean a damn word of it and it shows.




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