The events of Monday morning were utterly bizarre, even by 2018 standards.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was reported to have resigned from his job, then was reported to not be resigning, then was reported to be on the verge of being fired, only to be keeping his job and going to a regular meeting.
Anything unusual having to do with Rosenstein is sure to spark a slew of instant conspiracy theories, because he appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel, and oversees Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is also an investigation into the actions of President Donald Trump.
And ever since he’s been one of the president’s nemeses.
Trump is attempting to leverage the resignation or firing of Rod Rosenstein as a distraction from Kavanaugh's piling allegations of sexual assault. Not gonna happen. We can fight this White House on multiple fronts. And we will.
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) September 24, 2018
So when the news broke, just as quickly plots and theories flew around social media regarding what was “really” going on.
It all began on Friday, when the New York Times broke a story alleging that Rosenstein had advocated for secretly taping Trump, and was thinking of urging his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to rally the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump.
On Monday morning, Axios reported that Rosenstein was about to resign—likely using information leaked by the White House. That report was soon rebutted and morphed into Rosenstein being summoned to the White House to be fired. That too fizzled, with the meeting only a standard Rosenstein check-in and everything proceeding as normal. All of this happened in the space of two hours.
Except it wasn’t over, because Trump soon announced that he’d be meeting with Rosenstein on Thursday—possibly to clear the air, possibly to fire him, or possibly for something else.
Here’s what the internet thinks the whole fiasco was actually about:
It was a distraction by Trump to get Brett Kavanaugh’s flailing Supreme Court nomination out of the news.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was already on shaky ground, and that ground got hit by another earthquake on Sunday when the New Yorker reported on a second woman accusing the judge of sexual assault, this time in college. The next morning, the Rosenstein fiasco took place, and suddenly Kavanaugh’s predicament wasn’t the most interesting thing happening in Washington.
If that timing seems less than coincidental, the White House seemed to confirm it, with a source telling Vanity Fair that “the strategy was to try and do something really big” to save both Kavanaugh and possibly Republican control of the House and Senate.
Trump now plans to meet with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday. Same day as the Kavanaugh hearings.
Honestly don't know which one is supposed to be a distraction from which.
— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) September 24, 2018
Trump friend/enemy Joe Scarborough agreed, telling The View on Tuesday morning, “It was just smoke and mirrors, and we all fell for it. It was just to get everybody off the Supreme Court—it was to get everybody off of Kavanaugh for three hours.”
Essentially, by sending the media into a frenzy over Rosenstein’s possible firing, Trump gave Kavanaugh and his backers time to regroup. And by not actually doing it, Trump saved himself from a possible obstruction of justice rap and kept Rosenstein around to use as a distraction the next time he needs one.
Ultimately, if this was meant to be a distraction, it failed. The Kavanaugh nomination was back dominating the news by late morning Monday, and with Kavanaugh and his wife appearing in a Fox News interview that night, the plot to usurp the coverage was a total bust.
The removal of Rosenstein is just another page out of the Trump playbook to distract us from a SCOTUS nominee who is accused of sexual abuse. The GOP is doubling down on distractions & smears bc they know Kavanaugh is the man they need to overturn Roe & place POTUS above the law. https://t.co/6Q0Ik9HWSH
— NARAL (@NARAL) September 24, 2018
Trump is still going to fire Rosenstein, but on Thursday to take attention away from the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing
The next time Trump needs a distraction will likely be Thursday, when both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, are set to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
After interminable negotiations that saw Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley set half-a-dozen deadlines for Ford to confirm her testimony, only to move them (and to apparently confuse texting and tweeting), Thursday was nailed down as the day of the hearing.
Sure enough, once the smoke cleared from the Monday morning news, the White House announced Trump would be meeting with Rosenstein to determine his future as deputy attorney general. That meeting takes place on Thursday, and will probably overlap at least somewhat with the Senate Judiciary Hearing.
Interesting that @realDonaldTrump wants to meet with Rosenstein at the WH on Thursday the day of the Kavanaugh testimony..
Trump knows how to manipulate the news and cause distraction
— Olga Lautman (@olgaNYC1211) September 24, 2018
Once again, the two biggest stories in American politics crashing together on the same day seems less than coincidental, with the Hill dubbing it “Super Thursday” and declaring that no less than the fate of Republican control of Congress hangs in the balance.
The fake firing was a false flag to test the “rapid response” outrage to Rosenstein actually being fired
This was a hot theory on social media, where people posited that Trump tossed out Rosenstein’s ouster to see how quickly people would take to the streets in protest—a planned event that would supposedly see armies of liberals march in support of the Mueller investigation the moment news broke of Rosenstein being fired.
As it turns out, events changed so quickly that by the time many people had read of Rosenstein’s “firing” they also read that he hadn’t been fired. But the theory found a home with at least a few journalists, including NBC’s Richard Engel.
If today seemed like a fire drill for watering down/ending the Mueller investigation, where was the action? It appeared that many people heard the alarm, shrugged it off and stayed at their desks. So was THAT the real test? A fire alarm to judge public reaction? And if so…
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) September 25, 2018
If this was the plan, it could backfire on the White House, as it put the entire country on edge, and now gives an expected date to plan a protest.
The New York Times 25th Amendment story was cooked up by the deep state to bait Trump into firing Rosenstein—and Sean Hannity got him to stand down
When the Times story broke on Friday, a number of prominent personalities in conservative media demanded Trump immediately fire Rosenstein and shut the Mueller investigation down.
But cooler heads seem to prevail, as it was quickly determined—by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), among others—that anything coming out of the New York Times must, by definition, be fake, and that Rosenstein would never say anything like that, except as a joke.
So that’s Pirro, Ingraham, Jarrett telling Trump to fire Rosenstein immediately, Hannity telling him absolutely not to fire Rosenstein. https://t.co/1q2wzH505D
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 22, 2018
The source and timing of the Times story on Friday led to Hannity begging Trump straight to the camera on Friday night that “under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody.”
“The president needs to know it is all a setup,” Hannity continued. “He needs to know that regardless of whether he steps in or not, and I would argue he should definitely not, the deep state tonight is crumbling from within at this very hour.”
According to “multiple sources,” Hannity knew that the whole thing was a plot by the anti-Trump cabal to bait him into firing Rosenstein, which would be used as evidence of obstruction of justice in an impeachment trial, and to swing votes in the midterms.
While Trump allies are unanimous in their view that Rod Rosenstein is highly compromised, they expressed concerns that Democrats could seize on his dismissal to impeach the president https://t.co/kXZ6C2batv
— POLITICO (@politico) September 23, 2018
Trump seems to have listened to his supposed shadow advisor and backed down. For now, at least. But conventional wisdom has been that Trump will eventually fire Rosenstein anyway, likely after the midterms, as part of a wholesale purge of the cabinet.
It’s not clear whether that timeline has met with the approval of Trump’s television advisors.
At this point, Rosenstein is back to where he started, except with another meeting on his calendar. Trump got his distraction for a few hours, and nobody knows anything more than they did Monday morning.
But at least a lot of people got worked up.