Following the much-anticipated release of the four-page "Nunes memo" (pdf)—which was quickly ridiculed as a "flop" that "doesn't come close" to vindicating the right-wing hysteria that preceded it—top Democrats warned President Donald Trump in a letter on Friday that any attempt to use the document as a pretext to fire special counsel Robert Mueller would constitute obstruction of justice.
"Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre."
The Democrats' letter also cautioned Trump against using the "partisan and misleading" memo as justification to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who oversees Mueller—or other top Justice Department officials.
"We write to inform you that we should consider such unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation," reads the letter, which was signed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and top Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. "Firing Rod Rosenstein, [Justice Department] leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre."
Shortly before Democrats made their letter public, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he still has "confidence" in Rosenstein after reading the memo, which accuses the Justice Department of improperly surveilling former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
"You figure that one out," Trump said.
When asked if the memo makes it more likely he will fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump responds: "You figure that one out." pic.twitter.com/8eyAtm8uKF
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) February 2, 2018
For weeks, Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media have characterized the memo's contents as explosive, and some predicted that it would thoroughly undermine Mueller's Russia probe.
After the memo finally dropped on Friday, analysts quickly found that it did nothing of the kind.
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Despite the memo's flimsiness, advocacy groups and legal experts echoed Democrats in warning that Trump could still use the document to terminate Rosenstein or Mueller.
"We do not prejudge the outcome of the Russia investigation, but the defense of our democracy requires that it be permitted to proceed unimpeded," Public Citizen's Robert Weissman and Lisa Gilbert said in a statement. "That means no threats to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, no threats against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and no propaganda dressed up as scandalous revelation."
If Trump moves on Rosenstein or Mueller based on the flimsy prextext of #NunesMemo, that will be the final, definitive evidence that Trump's pattern of conduct since demanding loyalty from Comey is #OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. https://t.co/1riykfPdS8
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) February 2, 2018
However partisan and useless this memo may be, Trump may use it as a reason to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller. Call your senators, and tell them to vote to protect the Mueller investigation. #MemoDay
— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) February 2, 2018
Read the Democrats' full letter:
Dear President Trump: The decision to release a partisan and misleading memo over the objections of your own Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director and the Department of Justice (DOJ) was a transparent attempt to discredit the hard-working men and women of law enforcement who are investigating Russia's interference with our presidential election and that nation's ties to your campaign.
We are alarmed by reports that you may intend to use this misleading document as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in an effort to corruptly influence or impede special counsel Bob Mueller's investigation.
We write to inform you that we should consider such unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation. Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre.
Senator Chuck Schumer
Representative Nancy Pelosi
Senator Dick Durbin
Representative Steny Hoyer
Senator Patty Murray
Representative Joe Crowley
Senator Mark Warner
Representative Adam Schiff
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Representative Jerrold Nadler