More recently, he also supervised the assignment of the Michael Cohen matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. According to The New York Times, Rosenstein personally authorized the raid that followed. I have seen no signs that he has overseen either investigation in anything other than a professional fashion.
Rosenstein has, in short, allowed federal law enforcement to do its job. He has done so knowing that it would enrage the president. He has done so in the face of mounting pressure, both from Trump himself and from Congress, to back down. This is the reason the president wants his scalp.
What would the consequences be of Trump’s dismissing Rosenstein for these reasons and getting away with it? In the immediate term, it would mean the installation of someone else above Mueller and above the prosecutors in New York. That person would come in knowing that his or her predecessor had been axed for behaving honorably. That person would also arrive, at least in the first instance, in an acting capacity without having been confirmed by the Senate. That person might act, as Rosenstein has done, to protect the investigations and their integrity. But he or she might also come in with a mission to tame the investigations, to give the president what he so clearly wants. And that person will certainly come in with a clear incentive to lean in that direction.
More broadly, Rosenstein’s forcible removal at this stage would be another step in the president’s open attempts to dismantle the apparatus of independent law enforcement. It would be a bold statement of presidential control over the substance of law-enforcement investigations—a statement that the purpose of the FBI and the Justice Department is nothing more elevated than an expression of raw political power. The notion of independent law enforcement is an attempt to prevent the coercive powers of the state from being deployed as the playthings of those in power—to advantage and protect friends (and themselves) and to punish enemies. If the president can, with impunity, remove the deputy attorney general because he refuses to go after Clinton on the basis of the manufactured nonsense that litters Fox News and because he insists on allowing serious investigators to do serious work on serious criminal matters involving the president and his coterie, the very notion that law enforcement has a higher function than serving power becomes a lie.
As Donald Rumsfeld might say, you defend democratic institutions with the deputy attorney general you have, not the deputy attorney general you wish you had. I certainly wish we had a different deputy attorney general. But there is much to admire about Rosenstein’s conduct over the past year. If Americans value the democratic goods that his conduct has protected, indeed is protecting, they need to stand by the man himself.