The White House says President Donald Trump and his embattled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spoke on Monday and will meet Thursday at the White House.
Rosenstein, the No. 2 official in the Department of Justice, who oversees Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, reportedly expected to be fired Monday in the wake of news reports that he questioned Trump's fitness for office and talked of taking action.
It was widely reported early Monday that Rosenstein had submitted his resignation orally ahead of being fired. His visit to the White House on Monday morning fueled speculation that action on his fate was imminent. But t aides later told CBS News that he was there for a routine meeting in his official capacity.
Thursday's meeting falls on the same day that Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and a woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, are set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Rosenstein had "an extended conversation" Monday "to discuss the recent news stories" at Rosenstein's request.
Sanders' full statement said:
"At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories. Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington, D.C."
If Rosenstein were to leave, the distinction between a resignation and a firing would matter in terms of whether the president would be able to name an interim successor of his own choosing, The Associated Press reported.
Regardless, any termination or resignation would have immediate implications for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign before the 2016 election. Rosenstein appointed Mueller and oversees his investigation.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported Monday that Trump had yet decided on Rosenstein's fate for reportedly questioning the president's fitness to serve.
Trump told Geraldo Rivera in an interview aired Monday that he's looking at what, if anything, to do about Rosenstein's reported actions. The New York Times first reported that in 2017, Rosenstein had proposed secretly recording Trump and suggested his removal from office. Trump laid blame for the controversy at the feet of his attorney general.
"He was hired by Jeff Sessions," Trump said in Rivera's radio interview. As for Rosenstein's future, Trump says, "We will make a determination. It's certainly a very sad story."
Rosenstein issued a pair of denials, saying the Times report is inaccurate.
The exact timing of the resignation is unclear, but he isn't expected to be in the job after Monday, according to another person familiar with the matter. Bloomberg reports.
The departure of Rosenstein — who named Mueller to be special counsel in May 2017 —has enormous implications for the investigation and for the president.
Current and former government officials, including lawmakers, had long warned Trump against firing or pushing out Rosenstein. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer warned Trump against seizing on the report that Rosenstein suggested covertly taping him.
"This story must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in order install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the Special Counsel's investigation," Schumer said in a statement. He added that many "White House and cabinet officials have been reported to say critical things of the president without being fired."
Mueller has charged 25 Russian people and companies for election interference. He also has won guilty pleas and cooperation agreements from people around Trump, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Mueller is pursuing the possibility that people close to Trump colluded with representatives of Russia as well as whether Trump conspired to obstruct justice, inquiries the president has denounced as a "witch hunt."
Rosenstein made the decision to name a special counsel days after he took charge of the Russia probe, which he inherited when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the matter. Trump has mocked and criticized Sessions for doing so.
Trump can install a temporary replacement as deputy attorney general until he nominates a successor to Rosenstein who would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
However, the Justice Department has a line of succession that could let Solicitor General Noel Francisco assume control of the investigation. One question is whether that would be considered inappropriate given that Francisco is a former partner of the Jones Day law firm, which has represented Trump for years.
As solicitor general, Francisco has staunchly defended Trump administration policies while pursuing long-held conservative legal goals.
He successfully defended Trump's travel ban, drawing criticism for saying at argument that the president had "made crystal clear" he wasn't trying to impose barring Muslims. Francisco later sent the court a letter saying he had misstated the date on which Trump supposedly made those comments.
He reversed what had been the Obama administration's position on a number of high=profile issues in the court's last term.
Earlier this year, Francisco was photographed having dinner in downtown Washington with Sessions and Rosenstein in what some viewed as a show of support for an attorney general who was being sharply criticized by the president.
Francisco has been studiously silent about the Mueller probe, at last in public.
Rosenstein, 53, is a career prosecutor who was chosen by Trump to be the No. 2 official at the Justice Department last year. He previously served for 12 years as U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Rosenstein joined the Justice Department in 1990 and has been viewed as a respected public servant, credited with helping reshape the department's priorities.
In May, he stood up against Republican lawmakers who drafted articles of impeachment against him for refusing to turn over internal Justice Department documents that they said would reveal the questionable origins of the Russia probe.
"There are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time," Rosenstein said at a Law Day event in Washington. "I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We're going to do what's required by the rule of law."
But Rosenstein also riled some of Trump's critics in 2017, when he wrote a controversial letter outlining the case for firing then-FBI Director James Comey, saying he made "serious mistakes" in his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. Trump cited Rosenstein's letter in firing Comey, although he later said it was because of the Russia investigation.
Trump grew increasingly angry at Mueller's investigation, and at Rosenstein's supervision of it. He discussed dismissing Rosenstein with aides at the White House in April, a person familiar with the matter said.
Trump and some Republican lawmakers have pressed the argument that Mueller's inquiry should be shut down because it was irreversibly tainted by improper actions early in the inquiry, well before Mueller was appointed.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel after Trump fired Comey, who had been overseeing the investigation. Rosenstein took control of the inquiry because Attorney General Sessions, an early Trump campaign supporter, recused himself from any matters related to the 2016 election, a move the president has openly derided.
"I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad," Trump said in an interview with Hill.TV, the Capitol Hill newspaper's online TV channel, that aired on Sept. 19.
Material from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News was used in preparing this report.
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