Rosen­stein has one chance to save him­self

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

Rod Rosen­stein: Save your­self. For years, the man who just be­came the No. 2 of­fi­cial in the Jus­tice Depart­ment painstak­ingly built a rep­u­ta­tion as a gifted pros­e­cu­tor and an above-the-fray law­man, serv­ing Demo­cratic and Republican ad­min­is­tra­tions alike.

Now, about three weeks into his new job, he has be­come a na­tional joke.

He has de­stroyed his cred­i­bil­ity by giv­ing cover and le­git­i­macy to Trump’s de­ci­sion to fire FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey, the man over­see­ing the agency’s probe of the Trump cam­paign’s pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with Rus­sia in tilt­ing the 2016 elec­tion Trump’s way.

The Post re­ported that Rosen­stein threat­ened to re­sign be­cause the White House was turn­ing him into a stooge. Oth­ers matched the Post re­port. But Rosen­stein says: No, he made no such threat.

So he there­fore must be con­tent in the work en­vi­ron­ment he just joined. In case he missed it, this is what we’ve seen from that ad­min­is­tra­tion this past week:

The White House press sec­re­tary, Sean Spicer, hid­ing among the bushes on the White House north lawn and de­mand­ing that jour­nal­ists turn off their cam­era lights be­fore he would speak to them about the Comey af­fair.

Comey learn­ing that he had been fired when he saw it on TV on a West Coast swing; he thought it was a prank.

The White House of­fer­ing a pro­fu­sion of con­flict­ing ac­counts about Comey’s dis­missal, cul­mi­nat­ing in Trump con­tra­dict­ing his own aides by say­ing he would have fired Comey even if Rosen­stein hadn’t writ­ten that pre­pos­ter­ous memo cit­ing the Clin­ton email case.

The White House block­ing Amer­i­can re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers from cov­er­ing Trump’s meet­ing with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov but ad­mit­ting a pho­tog­ra­pher from the Rus­sian state news agency Tass, which pub­lished pho­tos of the meet­ing.

The pres­i­dent go­ing on Twit­ter to at­tack, again, a Demo­cratic se­na­tor for mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice years ago and to re­new his long-stand­ing feud with Rosie O’Don­nell.

The very same pres­i­dent reg­is­ter­ing the ap­proval of just 36 per­cent of the coun­try in a new Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll. When Amer­i­cans were asked to vol­un­teer a word that comes to mind when they think of Trump, the top an­swer was “id­iot.”

But the most sur­real hap­pen­ing last week was none of the above. It was the Wall Street Journal’s re­port that Rosen­stein “pressed White House coun­sel Don McGahn to cor­rect what he felt was an in­ac­cu­rate White House de­pic­tion of the events sur­round­ing FBI Direc­tor James Comey’s fir­ing.” The Journal re­ported that “Rosen­stein left the im­pres­sion that he couldn’t work in an en­vi­ron­ment where facts weren’t ac­cu­rately re­ported.”

Rosen­stein can’t work in an en­vi­ron­ment where facts aren’t ac­cu­rately re­ported? And yet he goes to work for the al­ter­na­tive-fact pres­i­dent, who, by The Post’s Fact Checker’s tally, churned out 492 false and mis­lead­ing claims in his first 100 days?

Rosen­stein is ei­ther the most naive man in town, or he’s not the hon­est man we all thought him to be. Let’s give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt and as­sume he’s an in­genue who was chewed up and spit out by the Trump White House, which com­man­deered his un­sul­lied rep­u­ta­tion to jus­tify its Comey sack­ing and left his once-vaunted stand­ing in tat­ters.

In that case, Rosen­stein needs to wake up to the re­al­ity that he has been — and con­tin­ues to be — used by Trump and his de­fend­ers to pro­vide a ve­neer of le­git­i­macy to the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate the head of the Rus­sia probe.

Trump may now say he would have fired Comey any­way, but ev­ery­body else has used Rosen­stein, and his three-page memo jus­ti­fy­ing Comey’s dis­missal, as cover.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.): “Mr. Rosen­stein rec­om­mended Mr. Comey’s re­moval.”

Spicer: “It was all him . . . . No one from the White House. That was a DOJ de­ci­sion.”

Se­nate Republican Con­fer­ence Chair­man John Thune (S.D.): “They de­cided to take this ac­tion, based upon a rec­om­men­da­tion from Rob Rosen­stein, who was just con­firmed by the Se­nate, 94-6, a cou­ple of weeks ago, and a man who peo­ple have a tremen­dous amount of con­fi­dence in.”

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.): “Democrats who were prais­ing Rod Rosen­stein and say­ing he was ex­actly the kind of per­son we needed . . . seem to for­get their very own con­vic­tion and vote on Rod Rosen­stein and say he can’t be fair.”

Rosen­stein now makes Comey look like Solomon. If he cares at all about re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the rep­u­ta­tion he built, Rosen­stein has one op­tion: He can ap­point a se­ri­ous, in­de­pen­dent and above-re­proach spe­cial coun­sel — the sort of per­son Rosen­stein was seen as, un­til last week — to con­tinue the Rus­sia probe.

Rosen­stein may never re­cover his honor. But this is his only chance.

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