On Friday night, the New York Times reported that top officials of the Department of Justice and of FBI met to discuss how to move ahead with respect to the new president within days after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, was nominally in charge of the meeting. Andrew McCabe, then acting FBI director, also attended. Subsequently, McCabe was fired. Rosenstein is still in place for the moment, amid rumors that he will be fired.
Prior to being fired, Comey had made memos of his meetings with Trump. According to Comey, in one meeting Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty, which Comey could not deliver. In a follow-up meeting, for which Trump requested privacy, Trump asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, the National Security Adviser fired for lying about his ties to Russia and other foreign governments. Comey had shared the memos with some colleagues as these meetings had occurred. With Comey now fired, the conclave of top law enforcement officials reviewed the ex-director’s memos again.
At some point during this meeting, Rosenstein allegedly discussed his wearing a wire to record his meetings with the president. The attendees also discussed the role of the 25th amendment to the Constitution, the one which makes provision for removing a president who is unfit to serve. Rosenstein has not unequivocally denied discussing either recording or removing the president, or discussing recruitment of cabinet members to join the effort to unseat Trump.
Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor on May 17, 2017, within days of the Comey firing and the DOJ-FBI strategy meeting. Rosenstein’s order of appointment gave Mueller a lot of latitude to investigate. Presumably, Rosenstein delivered at least one unwritten instruction with the appointment. Rosenstein undoubtedly urged Mueller to have a report at the ready, just in case one of them is fired without warning.
Mueller, a preternaturally cautious man, has probably done even more than Rosenstein would have suggested. Pieces of the investigation have been stashed with federal prosecutors’ offices in New York and Virginia, and there are likely materials being safeguarded elsewhere to protect against preëmptive action by FEPOTUS. These proto-reports would be updated regularly, like a computer backup, so that if the system crashes, the data won’t be lost.
This isn’t spy craft; it’s legal tradecraft. Memos of this kind speak of events more clearly than human memory. The participants of the DOJ-FBI meeting took notes, and some if not all wrote memos. One day the record will be open but that may be a long time from now.
If Trump fires Rosenstein he will try to appoint a successor who will end the Mueller probe. Even so, there will be records: recorded interviews, memos, notes, transcripts, grand jury minutes, and rolling reports; up-to-date status accounts of an investigation that has moved in many directions at once. One of those massive jigsaw puzzles, unfinished by Rosenstein and Mueller, pieces scattered, needing someone else to put them together.