The Palm Beach Post

Talk of 25th Amendment underscore­s volatility

- Peter Baker

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump had not even taken office before critics who considered him dangerous began imagining how to get him out. One idea floated from the very start was the clause in the Constituti­on permitting the removal of a president deemed unable to discharge his duties.

“Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constituti­on. Article 4,” David Frum, a conservati­ve author and former speechwrit­er for President George W. Bush, wrote prescientl­y just eight days after Trump’s election in November 2016. “We’re all going to be talking a lot more about it in the months ahead.”

On that, at least, he was right. There has been a lot of talk about it. But what has become increasing­ly clear in recent days is that the talk has extended not just to those who never supported Trump, but even to some of those who worked for him. As it turns out, according to memos written by an FBI official, the deputy attorney general at one point last year thought the president was so unstable that Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet should consider invoking the amendment.

There is no evidence that Pence or any Cabinet members ever seriously contemplat­ed the idea, and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, now says he does not believe there is a basis for such a removal. But the very discussion of it within the administra­tion underscore­s just how volatile this presidency is and how fractured the team around Trump is.

“Like so much with this president, it’s quite literally without precedent,” said Russell L. Riley, a presidenti­al historian at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. “To anyone’s knowledge, we’ve never been anywhere close to this situation before.”

The disclosure of Rosenstein’s comments by The New York Times followed an essay written by an unnamed senior administra­tion official for The Times’ opinion pages saying that “given the instabilit­y many witnessed, there were early whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment,” but “no one wanted to precipitat­e a constituti­onal crisis.”

Rosenstein raised the 25th Amendment in one of the most chaotic moments of the Trump administra­tion, shortly after the president had fired James Comey, the FBI director, who was leading an investigat­ion into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Rosenstein told Andrew McCabe, then the acting FBI director, that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to try to recruit support for removal under the amendment.

In a statement, Rosenstein said the Times’ article was inaccurate but did not explicitly deny that he had discussed the 25th Amendment.

To Trump’s allies, the report bolstered the president’s view that a “deep state” within the government is out to get him. Rosenstein seemed to feel used after a memo he wrote criticizin­g Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case was cited as justificat­ion to fire him. Rosenstein then appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to take over the Russia investigat­ion.

“It is clear that Rosenstein appointed a special counsel with the mission to remove President Trump from office while also giving himself cover,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign adviser to Trump. “What could Rosenstein have possibly thought the president was going to use the Comey memo for besides a rationale to fire Comey? This is a witch hunt.”

Former White House officials said they were not aware of a serious discussion of the 25th Amendment, but it was clear that some people around Trump had serious doubts about his capacity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States