Media critic

Two weeks ago, the New York Times opinions section ran a widely read op-ed by an anonymous senior Trump administration official who reported that there had been discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment against President Trump. “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president,” wrote the unnamed official.

Flimsy stuff. The Erik Wemple Blog asked the Times if it had sought further corroboration for that assertion. Spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha responded, “We aren’t going to comment at that level of detail.”

Well, the news side of the New York Times now has something to say about the 25th Amendment. In a scoop certain to alter history, reporters Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt deliver this story, with the headline: “Rosenstein Suggested He Secretly Record Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment.” The story drills in on the work of Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general and the man responsible for overseeing the investigation into potential Russian collusion by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. For that reason, he is of tremendous interest to Trump. “Getting rid of Rosenstein would be supremely helpful to Trump. He could nominate someone in Rosenstein’s place who would be willing to shut down or blunt … the Russia investigation,” wrote The Post’s Amber Phillips.

A group of House Republicans wants to impeach Rosenstein.

The Times exclusive focuses on spring 2017, not long after Rosenstein started in his position — and during the tumultuous days after the president’s May 9, 2017, firing of FBI Director James Comey. Key paragraphs from the Times:

Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.

None of Mr. Rosenstein’s proposals apparently came to fruition. It is not clear how determined he was about seeing them through, though he did tell Mr. McCabe that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Rosenstein issued this statement to the Times:

The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.

And the Justice Department issued a statement. Per the Times: “A Justice Department spokeswoman also provided a statement from a person who was present when Mr. Rosenstein proposed wearing a wire. The person, who would not be named, acknowledged the remark but said Mr. Rosenstein made it sarcastically.”

A story about anyone in the Trump administration broaching the 25th Amendment is an enormous scoop. And a story about Rod Rosenstein doing so is something far, far bigger. (The scoop indicates that the identity of the person who wrote the anonymous op-ed is “unknown” to the paper’s news side.) Now Trump & Co. will have either a pretext or solid grounds — depending on where you stand on matters of governance or partisan politics — to launch fresh attacks against Rosenstein, not to mention Mueller. Critics on social media are already examining source motives:

Here’s the president’s son on the same topic:

Nothing in life has prepared Americans for the mind-blowing ironies of the Trump presidency. Think about what is going on here: The New York Times just published a story chronicling the concerns of a top Justice Department official about the president’s fitness for office. It details how Rosenstein expressed “frustration at how Mr. Trump had conducted the search for a new F.B.I. director, saying the president was failing to take the candidate interviews seriously.” It shows an administration in disarray. It comes from a news outlet that Trump & Co. lump into the “fake news” crowd.

Yet the president’s son promotes it on Twitter with excited approbation.

Read more:

John S. Martin: The baseless, shameful campaign to discredit Rod Rosenstein

Harry Litman: Rosenstein and Wray have only one real weapon: Resignation

Matthew Miller: Rod Rosenstein’s dangerous gamble