Rod Rosenstein is having a strange week. The deputy attorney general is under pressure from all sides as the Russia investigation has escalated into direct scrutiny of the president himself. Donald Trump seemed to lash out at Rosenstein himself on Twitter on Friday, once again describing the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that Rosenstein oversees as a “witch hunt.”
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
Trump’s apparent ire toward the man he appointed as the Justice Department’s second-highest-ranking official seems to have grown since news reports on Wednesday described how Special Counsel Robert Mueller is planning to question witnesses as part of a probe into whether Trump may have committed obstruction of justice. That line of inquiry reportedly focuses on Trump’s actions toward former FBI Director James Comey before the president abruptly ousted him last month, and on Trump’s alleged pressuring of top intelligence officials to intervene in Comey’s investigation.
The president’s attack renewed concerns that Trump could move to oust Mueller from the investigation, which would require Rosenstein’s assent under Justice Department rules. Rosenstein told Congress on Wednesday he would not fire Mueller without the legally required “good cause,” potentially setting up a situation where Trump could fire Rosenstein for refusing to fire the special counsel. Richard Nixon attempted a similar purge of the Watergate special prosecutor’s office in 1973 that was dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre; it ultimately hastened his downfall.