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Rosenstein resigns after reports he considered taping Trump, source says
[WASHINGTON] Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official in charge of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, has verbally resigned to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to one person familiar with the matter.
The resignation was delivered to Mr Kelly late last week, but it's unclear whether Mr Rosenstein is planning to follow through with a formal resignation, the person said. A second person said that Mr Rosenstein isn't expected to be in the job after Monday.
The move comes after reports that Mr Rosenstein suggested to colleagues last year that he would secretly record conversations with President Donald Trump.
A person who was present at the meeting said he was joking, but the New York Times, which first reported the incident on Friday, cited secondhand accounts indicating Mr Rosenstein was serious about the proposal. The Times said Mr Rosenstein also discussed identifying Cabinet members willing to invoke the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president who's unfit for office.
The departure of Mr Rosenstein - who named Mr Mueller to be special counsel in May 2017 - has enormous implications for the investigation and for the president. The resignation was reported earlier Monday by Axios.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand warned that Mr Mueller's probe needs additional protection in light of Mr Rosenstein's expected departure.
"The Senate must step up to protect the Special Counsel immediately," she said in a tweet. "We must pass the bipartisan bill to protect the Mueller investigation. The American people deserve answers about Russian interference in our democracy."
Current and former government officials, including lawmakers, had long warned Mr Trump against firing or pushing out Mr Rosenstein. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer warned Mr Trump against seizing on the report that Mr Rosenstein suggested covertly taping him.
"This story must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in order install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the Special Counsel's investigation," Mr Schumer said in a statement. He added that many "White House and Cabinet officials have been reported to say critical things of the president without being fired."
Mr Mueller has charged 25 Russian people and companies for election interference. He also has won guilty pleas and cooperation agreements from people around Mr Trump, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Mr Mueller is pursuing the possibility that people close to Mr Trump colluded with representatives of Russia as well as whether Mr Trump conspired to obstruct justice, inquiries the president has denounced as a "witch hunt."
Mr Rosenstein made the decision to name a special counsel days after he took charge of the Russia probe, which he inherited when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the matter. Mr Trump has mocked and criticized Mr Sessions for doing so.
Mr Trump can install a temporary replacement as deputy attorney general until he nominates a successor to Mr Rosenstein who would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
However, the Justice Department has a line of succession that could let Solicitor General Noel Francisco assume control of the investigation. One question is whether that would be considered inappropriate given that Mr Francisco is a former partner of the Jones Day law firm, which has represented Mr Trump for years.
As solicitor general, Mr Francisco has staunchly defended Trump administration policies while pursuing long-held conservative legal goals.
He successfully defended Mr Trump's travel ban, drawing criticism for saying at argument that the president had "made crystal clear" he wasn't trying to impose barring Muslims. Mr Francisco later sent the court a letter saying he had misstated the date on which Mr Trump supposedly made those comments.
He reversed what had been the Obama administration's position on a number of high profile issues in the court's last term.