Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Donald Trump last week that he isn’t a target of any part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to two people familiar with the issues.
Rosenstein was at a meeting with Trump at the White House last Thursday and brought up the Mueller probe on his own. He offered the assurance and it seemed to lessen the president’s desire to remove Rosenstein or Mueller, the sources said.
After the meeting, the president apparently told some of his closets advisers that it’s not the right time to remove either men, since he’s not a target in the probe. One source said that Trump does not want to do anything that might drag out the investigation.
The shift from Trump may give some breathing room for Mueller, as well as Rosenstein, who has been criticized strongly by House Republicans for being slow to comply with requests for classified documents.
Rosenstein’s message to the president may have been based on a technicality. Trump may not officially be a target, but Mueller hasn’t ruled out making him one at some point in the future, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the total investigation.
Trump had this response when a reporter asked him about Rosenstein and Mueller on Wednesday:
“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months,” Trump said at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. “And they’re still here. We want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us. And we have to get back to business.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on Rosenstein’s meeting with Trump, which was also attended by White House General Counsel Don McGahn, FBI General Counsel Dana Boente, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
This encounter is similar to one that former FBI Director James Comey writes about in his recently released book. Back in March 2017, Comey told Trump he wasn’t a target in the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Comey wrote in his new book, “A Higher Loyalty,” that Trump repeatedly asked him to help lift “the cloud” hanging over him by publicly announcing he wasn’t under investigation.
Comey did not comply with the president’s request, he wrote that “the FBI and Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most important that it would create a duty to correct that statement should that status change.”
Trump continues to be critical of the special counsel investigation. In his remarks Wednesday, Trump called the Mueller-led probe “a hoax” created by Democrats “to soften the blow of a loss.”
“As far as the investigation, nobody has ever been more transparent,” he said during a news conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “I have instructed the lawyers, ‘Be totally transparent.”’