Trump Meets No. 2 DOJ Official as Aides Seek to Defuse Tensions
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday in an encounter that the president’s advisers hoped would cool tensions over a federal investigation into possible ties between the Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian operatives.
Rosenstein came to the White House to assure Trump that the Justice Department was cooperating with Republican congressional investigators examining the origin of the FBI’s inquiry into ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Yet the brief meeting at the White House on Thursday afternoon appeared not to defuse the president’s anger over Rosenstein’s approval of an FBI search of Trump’s personal attorney’s office and home in New York, one of the people said.
The encounter came a day after Trump had discussed with White House aides the idea of firing Rosenstein, who oversees Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, one person said. Congressional Republicans have been fueling Trump’s frustration, calling him repeatedly in recent days to complain about the Justice Department’s handling of their requests for classified documents.
Trump seemed distracted as he met with Rosenstein, said one person briefed on the meeting. White House General Counsel Don McGahn, FBI general counsel Dana Boente, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also attended.
A Twitter Denial
Egged on by some of his strongest supporters, Trump has taken an increasingly combative posture toward Mueller’s investigation after FBI agents raided the home and office of his lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday. But Trump, in a Twitter post on Thursday, denied a report that he tried to dismiss Mueller last year.
"If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him," Trump said. "Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!"
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York was responsible for the search of Cohen’s offices rather than Mueller, though the raid stemmed from evidence the special counsel’s prosecutors referred to Southern District. Rosenstein approved the search of the law office, which under Justice Department regulations cannot be conducted without a go-ahead from a top department official.
Justice Department officials were also seeking to ease dissatisfaction on Capital Hill, providing House Intelligence Committee members a fuller view of a highly classified intelligence document that may have kicked off the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives. House Republicans have threatened to pursue contempt proceedings against Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
A Justice Department official said the committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes; its top Democrat, Adam Schiff; and other members of the panel had been granted access to the requested document with minimal redactions. The official said the only information that remains concealed is the identity of a foreign government and the agent that provided some of the information.
Nunes, a California Republican, had previously asserted the department was withholding too much of that document by providing only a heavily redacted version in response to an Aug. 24, 2017 subpoena.
Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the House subcommittee on government operations, said Thursday evening that he was unaware of the White House meeting, or of any resolution to the standoff over documents.
Meadows said he and other members of the Oversight and Judiciary committees were continuing to urge Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia to pursue contempt charges against Rosenstein and Wray.
“I remain unsatisfied. Nothing has satisfied me yet. Because nothing has changed from yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that,” said Meadows.
Goodlatte, in a separate interview, said he wasn’t aware of any breakthrough on the document dispute.
Trump allies have mounted a campaign to discredit Rosenstein since the Cohen raid. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategist, said he has told White House officials that the president should fire both his lawyer Ty Cobb and Rosenstein to cripple Mueller’s inquiry.
Bannon added that Trump should stop cooperating with Mueller and assert executive privilege to silence aides who might speak with the special counsel -- even retroactively, for those who’ve already been interviewed.
Other supporters of the president made their arguments on television. Roger Stone, a sometime Trump confidant, told ABC News on Wednesday that Trump should fire Sessions and Rosenstein. Joe diGenova, an attorney who was nearly added to Trump’s legal team last month, said on Fox News that Sessions should fire Rosenstein.
“The fact is Rod Rosenstein has not done his job. He has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another Trump ally, said on Fox News on Wednesday.
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