Your Handy Guide to What Might Happen Next.
Last Friday the New York Times ran a story suggesting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had attempted to remove Donald Trump from office by secretly recording a conversation with the president and then getting Mike Pence, half the members of Trump’s cabinet, and two-thirds of both houses of Congress to invoke the 25th Amendment (unfit to serve) and throw him out. Rosenstein has emphatically denied the allegation (given to the Times by a source they decline to name), but frankly I think if there is anyone in the administration who doesn’t want to remove Trump, someone should check to see if that person might be unfit.
Most of us, including Rosenstein, figured he’d be fired forthwith, probably by this morning. But so far it hasn’t happened. This is probably because there are some issues regarding his replacement. Turns out there are laws about how that works. Pesky laws always getting in the way of Donald’s fiendish plans. Trump will probably try to ignore the law on this, and to be honest I can’t predict that he won’t get away with it. The law is arcane and hasn’t really been tested, and in this case if he does something that seems against the law and the case ends up at the Supreme Court, he’ll have a couple of his own appointees pondering the details. Will Gorsuch and Kavanaugh recuse themselves? Of course not!
So here’s the rule in a nutshell: If Rosenstein resigns, Trump can appoint anybody he wants (who already has a Senate confirmation). If Rosenstein is fired, his job has to be filled by whoever’s next in line in his department (DOJ). Normally, that would be current Solicitor General Noel Francisco, a Republican appointee who might be willing to do some dirty work for the boss, but maybe not.
But here’s where it gets complicated. Some observers say that Rosenstein is actually holding two jobs: Deputy Attorney General and Acting Attorney General overseeing the Russia investigation. The second job is because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from anything to do with Russia, since he was part of the Trump campaign — and may have done a bit of his own “collusion” with the Russkies. I’ll let CNBC try to explain this:
Any replacement of Rosenstein by Trump, therefore, would be a replacement of his deputy attorney general position, not a replacement of the other role, acting attorney general for the Russia probe. That responsibility would go to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and experts agree that the law gives Trump little control over that aspect of the succession.
This is confusing to me because it makes it look like Francisco gets the nod for both of Rosenstein’s jobs, but, whatever. Of course, CNBC and a lot of the traditional press still think there’s a chance that Trump will act in line with norms, standards and tradition. If he does, the situation might be somewhat manageable. But it’s Trump, and we’re in Crazytown, so remain seated and keep your hands and feet inside the car until it comes to a full stop.