Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was determined to keep his big secret about a pending special counsel right up to the day his top candidate, Robert Mueller, sat down with President Trump in the Oval Office.
The email was one of a thread of messages that the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained from the Justice Department under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Mr. Trump has claimed that the purpose of Mr. Mueller’s May 16 White House visit was to interview him for the vacant FBI director post. Mr. Mueller, a former FBI director, has said the meeting’s purpose was to discuss the bureau in general.
Whatever the purpose, John Dowd, Mr. Trump’s attorney during the ensuing 22-month probe, said Mr. Mueller had a duty not to meet with the president knowing he was likely to be investigating the Trump campaign.
“The most dishonorable conduct I have ever witnessed,” Mr. Dowd told The Washington Times.
Noting Mr. Mueller’s military service, Mr. Dowd added: “Capt. Robert Mueller, USMC, sits in front of his commander-in-chief being interviewed for FBI director knowing he is going to investigate the president and never says a word.”
The next day, Mr. Rosenstein shocked the White House. Without consultation, he announced that Mr. Mueller would take over the Russia probe, launching a historic investigation that would attract a staff of mostly Democratic prosecutors. He gave Mr. Mueller wide latitude to investigate Mr. Trump and his campaign associates, saying “any links” with Russia should be probed.
Mr. Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey on May 9. The White House cited a memo written by Mr. Rosenstein on how Mr. Comey crossed the line in announcing no charges against Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of State Department emails.
Aghast, Mr. Rosenstein almost immediately began a hunt for a special counsel. His inbox filled with demands from liberal nonprofit groups to appoint one. He didn’t believe he had written the memo to justify a firing.
An aide emailed Mr. Mueller’s law firm, WilmerHale: “I’m writing to try to arrange a meeting between Mr. Rosenstein and Bob Mueller, hopefully for Friday [May 12] morning — anytime before 10 a.m. Can you let me know if Mr. Mueller would have any time? Thanks so much!”
By May 16, the deal seemed done. Mr. Rosenstein again met with Mr. Mueller and sent the “sometimes the moment chooses us” email. Mr. Mueller spent time that same day with the president. Mr. Rosenstein announced the appointment on May 17.
Judicial Watch released documents in September about another traumatic event unfolding inside the Justice Department that May.
In an astounding discussion, Mr. Rosenstein offered to wear a wire during a meeting with the president to record the conversation and ask him his motivations, according to a contemporaneous memo written by Mr. McCabe.
“He said he thought this might be possible because he was not searched when he entered the White House,” Mr. McCabe wrote. “I told him that I would discuss the opportunity with my investigative team and get back to him.”
The wire caper apparently never happened.
Mr. McCabe, who would be fired the next year for allegedly lying to investigators about a leaked news story, acted on May 16 to investigate Mr. Trump as a possible Russian spy and election collaborator.
A year later, Mr. Rosenstein discussed how to respond to a 2018 New York Times story about the wire and about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove an incapacitated president.
The story apparently came from the fired Mr. McCabe. He talked about the incident while selling his book, “The Threat.”
Mr. Rosenstein ended up issuing a statement: “The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the Department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
Mr. Mueller completed his final report in March. While Mr. McCabe implied that Mr. Trump is a Russian spy, the 448-page report offers no such evidence. Mr. Mueller was assigned to find “any links” with Russia by any Trump associate or Mr. Trump himself.
The Mueller report said: “The evidence we obtained did not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”
In July, Mr. Mueller appeared before two House committees at the insistence of Democrats.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, asked him about his May 16, 2017, meeting with the president.
Asked whether he planned to investigate Mr. Trump for firing Mr. Comey at the time he was appointed special counsel, Mr. Mueller answered, “I’m not going to get into that. Internal deliberation from the Justice Department.”
“Were you talking to him about FBI director position,” Mr. Gohmert asked.
“Not as a candidate,” Mr. Mueller said.
“Did he mention the firing of James Comey in your discussion with him?” the congressman asked.
“Cannot remember,” Mr. Mueller said. “I don’t believe so, but I’m not going to be specific.”
“If he did, you could have been a fact witness as to the president’s comments and state of mind on firing James Comey,” Mr. Gohmert said.
“I suppose that’s possible,” Mr. Mueller said.
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