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Worrying About the Wrong Thing

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 23, 2018

Once again, we’re seeing public attention towards Washington focus immediately on the wrong end of the telescope.

In the hours following disclosures by The New York Times that Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod J. Rosenstein — two years ago — had threatened either seriously or sarcastically that FBI officials secretly wire any conversation with President Trump to show how out of control he was, the official focus of the White House, the House Judiciary Committee and cable commentators lasered in on Rosenstein and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose contemporaneous memos reflected the incident.

There’s good reason, of course: President Trump’s innate necessity to slap back at any perceived threat could result in a move to dismiss Rosenstein, which, in turn, would endanger the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, which Trump sees as a witch hunt that should disappear. And that could create the kind of crisis that no one in Washington wants, because even Republican supporters of the president would have to consider impeachment for interfering with an investigation of the president himself.

But it seems to me that the real issue that the disclosure raised anew concerns the inadequacies of Trump to serve as president and the chaos that passes as his time in the Oval Office.

Were Trump to fire Rosenstein, he would simply be eliminating the source of an obvious complainant to his presidency. The problem — the Trump presidency — would remain, now yet more unchecked.

We’ve seen this before — much more concern about the “leak” of one document or another, of one action or another, rather than focus on the fundamental problem at hand. Part of this is the nature of “news,” based on the latest issue of conflict or of pending trouble rather than stepping back to look at the real nature of the issue.

It was right there in the first sentence in the report: “The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.”


“The suggestion itself was remarkable,” The Times reported, adding that it came during chaotic early days of the administration when it fired former FBI Director James Comey Jr. using a Rosenstein memo as justification. “While informants or undercover agents regularly use concealed listening devices to surreptitiously gather evidence for federal investigators, they are typically targeting drug kingpins and Mafia bosses in criminal investigations, not a president viewed as ineffectively conducting his duties.”

Rosenstein and others immediately rejected the report as inaccurate. But the overall sense of the notion of tracking the president’s words and to consider soliciting Cabinet officials to consider using the 25thAmendment to declare Trump incompetent has persisted. “The episode is the first known instance of a named senior administration official weighing the 25th Amendment. Unidentified others have been said to discuss it, including an unnamed senior administration official who wrote an Op-Ed for The New York Times. That person’s identity is unknown to journalists in the Times news department,” said The Times. It is the same sentiment reflected in recent books by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, insider Omarossa Mignault Newman and others.

But instead of looking at Trump, we’re being directed by actions and commentaries to look at what will happen to the would-be challenger. The ironic joke here, of course, is that Trump and Rosenstein seem to have made a certain uneasy peace between themselves since those early days, and the president has publicly praise Rosenstein.

The Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee already says it will subpoena the document, and, conservatives already angered at Rosenstein, may well aim at impeaching him, as if that is justified by calling out a president out of control. The Republican-majority Senate seems on the verge, once the pesky issue of sexual assault allegations can be set aside, to confirm a Supreme Court justice who believes in expanding presidential power. And the White House itself shows no sign of restraint in how the president may react in the days ahead.

I, for one, think it is less important whether Rosenstein said something he would have preferred remain quiet, than it is that we have a president who lacks self-control, who cannot see the lawful limits on presidential powers, who disdains fact, science and nuance for bombast in policy-making.


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