Sanders announced the meeting three days after The New York Times reported that Rosenstein suggested secretly recording Trump and using the tape in an effort to remove the president—an allegation that Rosenstein denied. A Justice Department official said that Rosenstein made the comments in jest.
The statement was issued after multiple media outlets cited anonymous White House sources in reporting that Rosenstein verbally offered his resignation to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The White House and the Justice Department (DOJ) didn’t confirm the reports.
“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories. Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington,” Sanders said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on Sept. 24 that she never witnessed any conversations similar to those alleged in the article concerning Rosenstein.
“I am not aware of any Cabinet members that are even talking about that. It is completely and totally absurd. No one is questioning the president at all,” Haley said.
The New York Times published its report about Rosenstein hours after Trump announced that he will hand over a trove of unredacted documents related to the Russia probe to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Trump had previously ordered the same documents to be declassified, but later changed course and forwarded the documents to Horowitz. Sessions assigned federal prosecutor John Huber to handle criminal referrals from Horowitz.
“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sept. 21. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release.”
The documents include the June 2017 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) renewal warrant application to surveil former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. Rosenstein signed that application.
The core of the evidence in the FISA warrant application consisted of an anti-Trump dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. A former foreign spy compiled the dossier using second- and third-hand sources with ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence services.
The FBI applied for its first FISA warrant to spy on Page in October 2016 as part of its counterintelligence probe of alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Special counsel Robert Mueller took over that investigation in May 2017.
Trump has repeatedly slammed the use of the dossier as a pretext to spy on his campaign. The president also has frequently dismissed the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
“The illegal Mueller Witch Hunt continues in search of a crime. There was never Collusion with Russia, except by the Clinton campaign, so the 17 Angry Democrats are looking at anything they can find. Very unfair and BAD for the country. ALSO, not allowed under the LAW!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sept. 16.
Then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe also signed the June 2017 FISA application. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe earlier this year for lying to investigators and authorizing a self-serving leak to the media.
Rosenstein currently oversees the special counsel investigation. He appointed Mueller and drafted two letters outlining the scope of the probe. The second letter is heavily redacted, and Republican lawmakers have demanded an un-redacted version for months.
While Mueller hasn’t produced any evidence or indictments related to coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Democrats fear that Rosenstein’s resignation or firing could undermine the Mueller probe.
“Under no circumstances should Rod Rosenstein resign. This would place the Mueller investigation in even greater jeopardy,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter.
Republicans responded to the report about Rosenstein discussing recording Trump with renewed calls for transparency at the Justice Department.
“Andy McCabe is under investigation for lying to the FBI. His words and memos should be viewed with extreme skepticism,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter on Sept. 21. “But if this story is true, it underscores a gravely troubling culture at FBI/DOJ and the need for FULL transparency. Declassify everything. Let Americans judge.”