• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Rosenstein Speaks: Trump Tweets

June 2017

Hasty climbers have sudden falls, while hasty thumbs tweet folderol.

While scaling a political mountain, whose bulk has grown in size as he churns, stirs, and tosses up the earth from below, President Trump is tweeting himself into trouble. On Friday, Trump responded on the social media network to something Rod Rosenstein—his deputy attorney general and general bête noire—said a day before. In an ambiguous remark, Rosenstein advised Americans to be skeptical of anonymous allegations and news stories from unknown sources. He warned us to be especially leery of sources peddling stories from outside the U.S. In all, he implored us to be on-guard. These imperatives of news consumption should go without saying, but I suppose they bear repeating from time to time.

But the fact that it was Rosenstein giving the lesson was odd. He’s known above all to be a rather taciturn chap, rarely seeking the spotlight in an administration over-crowded with shiny personalities. He’s an inconspicuous operator, but an important one. Howsoever small his presence may be in the public eye, his shadow looms large in the White House. He is in charge of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and it potential collusion with president Trump. This is why his warning raised more than a few eyebrows.

Seeking a rationale, observers thought that Rosenstein might have issued this statement to get ahead of a burgeoning story. It could be that he was referring to the developing story that told of Jared Kushner’s, President Trump’s son-in-law and chief confidante, entanglement with a Russian bank. Fittingly, the bank had been sanctioned under the Obama administration for dealing in Vladimir Putin’s palm. Because of this, Kushner shouldn’t have been doing business, let alone communicating with the bank. But he was, and the FBI has since opened an investigation into the matter accordingly.

It could be that Rosenstein issued his statement at the White House’s behest. It’s well within the bounds of what administration officials say on a fairly regular basis. He didn’t go so far as to inveigh against the news media’s veracity, but he hinted that there’s always more (or less) to a story than there seems.

So, it was peculiar that Rosenstein felt compelled to say this, but palatable if understood in that light. Things to a bewildering turn though, when President Trump sounded off a response. He lashed out at Rosenstein, saying that he was “being investigated by the man who told me to fire the FBI director…Witch Hunt!”

Like bacteria that accrete in small spaces, it’s amazing how many issues sprout up in such a terse tweet. Deconstructing it from its first word to its last, Trump appears to have confirmed what was long suspected. Namely, that he is indeed under an FBI investigation for colluding with Russia. Until Trump sent those two affirmative words, “I am being investigated”, the idea of this was little more than a Liberal’s dream. It was a sweven, a vision, a prophecy, but it had no ground in reality. It was but a week ago that Trump rejoiced upon hearing James Comey, the former FBI director mentioned in the tweet, say that he was not personally under investigation. Trump celebrated, and declared himself “completely vindicated”. It seems now that he may have spoken too soon.

While we’re on the all-too familiar topic of James Comey, the second problem with this tweet can be flushed out. Trump referenced, “the man who told me to fire the FBI director”. “The man”, in this case, is of course Rod Rosenstein. Ostensibly, it was his recommendation that led us to into this intractable situation. By asserting now that it was Rosenstein’s, and not his own decision, to fire Comey, the president is blatantly contradicting himself. You’ll recall Trump’s infamous and brazen confession to Lester Holt, in which he admitted that he fired Comey without heeding Rosenstein’s advice. Now, the lines are blurred. It’s unclear, as it was before, where the onus for Comey’s ousting should lay. It seems the buck has been passed back to the deputy attorney general.

The third of this tweet’s trinity of issues is Trump’s clear frustration with Rosenstein. He’s upset about his continued greenlighting of Special Counselor Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump has poorly held his tongue when it comes to complaining about Mueller’s team and the damage it might inflict. Rosenstein is the man who instituted Mueller, and save for the president, is the only one who can take him out. Trump would love nothing more, and media nothing less, than to have Rosenstein enjoin the investigation at once—pack it up and send it home. The president knows that Mueller will likely stop at nothing, digging until bedrock is struck, to find some damning gem that can be hurled into an impeachment proceeding. A little pressure on Rosenstein, Trump’s thinking goes, could nip this inevitability in the bud.

But Rosenstein won’t budge. His heels are dug, his skin in the game. So, onward and deeper the investigation goes.

This is the only thing about which we can be sure. And that’s no small thing, because matters were confused further on Sunday. On the morning’s talk show programs, President Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told hosts and audiences that in fact the president is not under investigation. If we are to give credence to Sekulow’s account, Trump simply tweeted too hastily. He was responding to cursory information—unverified press reports instead of bona fide intel. This, I think you’ll agree, is a weak defense. The president has at his hands the most robust intel on planet Earth. He’s privy to all things, but I suppose this doesn’t mean he’s interested in knowing them. Just because he habitually responds with bad information, doesn’t make it more venial. There’s also the issue of dissonance within the White House itself. Trump’s staff seems to be abridged of the situation, while the president is either in the dark or his own head—or perhaps both, or perhaps they’re one in the same.

Sekulow went on to explain, as though it required explaining, that the president “is not spending a lot of time composing the tweets”. A shock to no one, Sekulow conceded this while still displaying the utmost pride in his boss. So, Trump needs more time. He’s not a prodigiously quick composer like a Joseph Haydn. He needs to muse and ponder before he publishes his Twitter symphonies.

All joking aside, though, this begs the question: with how much seriousness and attention should we be receiving Trump’s tweets? His advocates and apologists say we should take them “seriously” but not “literally”. Is this the standard we’d apply to any other world leader? Has it come to point where the President of the United States’—the most important man in the world—words should be taken as mere whimsies? It’s utterly insane. For all his flaws, Trump must be taken seriously and literally and gravely so. He might be impetuous with his tweets, but he’s not impervious to the demands of the office.

All said, the mountain grows. Trump keeps burying himself and climbing out, and burying himself again. All the while, the ground beneath Rosenstein’s feet wears thin. One more ill-thought, hasty tweet could send both tumbling down.

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