Donald Trump has been handed a golden opportunity to turn the tables on his enemies. No sooner had he backed down on declassifying Russia-related documents from the Justice Department, citing the concerns of key allies, than the New York Times reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, apparently talked about wearing a wire to tape Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment. He also suggested that other FBI officials could tape Trump. The revelation is sure to fortify allegations on the right about the depths of the deep state conspiracy trying to topple him from office. If Rosenstein, as seems likely, is Anonymous of Times fame, then his anonymity is blown.
Rosenstein, though, is trying to exploit the story as an opportunity to demonstrate his fealty to Trump. It’s provided him with the chance to assert that it’s fake news emanating from the failing New York Times. In a statement released today, he asserted: ‘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.’ Those intent on a hermeneutic reading of the statement will note that he confines his denial to ‘my personal dealings.’ It says nothing about what his coevals might have concluded about the president’s mental state.
At this point, Trump is starting to look like living proof of Henry Kissinger’s axiom that even paranoids have enemies. The problem for Trump is that he is singlehandedly converting his own officials into antagonists. Rosenstein originally went into a snit because Trump had foisted, or tried to foist, responsibility for the ouster of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 on him by pressuring him to draft and sign a letter about his failings. Trump blew up that strategy when he went on NBC with Lester Holt and blandly acknowledged that he had terminated Comey because of that ‘Russia thing,’ as he put it.
More recently, he advanced the novel theory that he should have sacked Comey as soon as he, Trump, won the Republican primaries. Whether President Obama would have been down with that was beside the point. Somehow, somewhere, Trump would have pulled it off: ‘If I did make one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries. I should have fired him right after the convention. Say, “I don’t want that guy.” Or at least fired him the first day on the job.’ Will Trump begin to insist upon strip searches of officials before they enter the Oval Office to ensure that they aren’t wired to record his impromptu remarks? Watch for airport-style magnetometers to be installed at various entrances to the White House.
At a minimum, he is surely weighing a purge of the Justice Department. It might further damage Republican electoral prospects in the midterm elections, but Trump might figure now or never. If the Democrats are going to take the House and Senate, he has little to lose. The constitutional crisis that has been predicted may come sooner than anyone thought.