As President Donald Trump continues to seethe with anger over the FBI raid of his personal lawyer's offices and openly float the possibility of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Trump is currently "building a case" to fire Mueller's boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and deploying outside allies to attack the Russia probe on television.
"If Trump fires Rosenstein, it will clearly be for one reason and one reason alone: to impede the lawful investigation of the president and those close to him."
—Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, CREW
The Journal's reporting comes just hours after CNN revealed Thursday night the White House is "preparing talking points" aimed at undermining Rosenstein's credibility and characterizing him as "too conflicted to fairly oversee the Russia investigation."
In response to this news, legal experts argued that Trump's direct and proxy attacks on Rosenstein should be viewed as attempts to obstruct Mueller's probe.
"If Trump fires Rosenstein, it will clearly be for one reason and one reason alone: to impede the lawful investigation of the president and those close to him," argued Norm Eisen and Richard Painter of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) wrote in an op-ed for USA Today on Thursday. "Similar actions by President Nixon in the Saturday Night Massacre led to his downfall. The firing of Rosenstein would have the same outcome for Trump."
If Trump ultimately decides to fire Rosenstein, advocacy groups and lawmakers warned that it would spark a constitutional crisis and argued that Americans should take to the streets in protest.
"Make no mistake about it, if Donald Trump fires Rod Rosenstein it would push this country into no less a constitutional crisis than if the president fires Robert Mueller—a constitutional crisis the likes of which we have not seen since Watergate," declared Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in a tweet on Friday.
Make no mistake about it, if @realDonaldTrump fires Rod Rosenstein it would push this country into no less a constitutional crisis than if the president fires Robert Mueller -- a constitutional crisis the likes of which we have not seen since Watergate.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) April 13, 2018
Meanwhile, NBC News reported early Friday afternoon that Rosenstein is telling confidantes "he is prepared to be fired."
According to the Journal, Trump's moves to court outside help to attack the credibility of Rosenstein and the Russia probe more broadly are an effort to "avoid" the impression that he is attempting to directly interfere with Mueller's investigation.
The two separate reports by the Journal and CNN—both based on the accounts of anonymous White House officials and individuals close to Trump—emerged as the president continues to ramp up his attacks on the special counsel on Twitter and insist that he has the legal authority to terminate Mueller if he desires.
In a tweet on Wednesday shortly after warning Russia that missiles "will be coming" at Syria, Trump blamed escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia on Mueller's "fake and corrupt" probe and called the special counsel "most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein...)."
Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
In a tweet on Thursday, Public Citizen highlighted protests that are slated to take place in over 800 cities across the U.S. if Trump ousts Rosenstein or Mueller.
Rumors are swirling that Trump could fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s boss — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — as early as tomorrow. That's a red line that will trigger protests in 800+ cities across the country.
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) April 12, 2018
"If Donald Trump attempts to sabotage the Trump-Russia investigation, we need swift action," concluded MoveOn.org.