Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein walked into the White House Monday morning prepared to walk the plank. He was told to come back on Thursday.
Until then, Washington will be in the grip of another multilayered episode of Trumpian suspense, with the future not only of Rosenstein but the Robert Mueller Russia investigation that he oversees potentially in play.
Frequently on Trump's bad side, Rosenstein seemed destined for his even worse side following a report in The New York Times on Friday about fevered discussions in May 2017 after the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The report said Rosenstein, meeting with other Justice Department and FBI officials, raised the possibility of secretly recording the president and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him.
Other reports said the wire-wearing remark was sarcastic, not serious. Rosenstein fired back with denials of the story, whose wording was less than absolute. But by Friday evening, in conversations with White House officials, he talked about resigning, according to The Washington Post and the Times. He was told to hold off.
On Monday, when reporters sniffing out the resignation talk began calling on whether the resignation plans were true, Rosenstein figured they were hearing it from the White House and rushed there, expecting to be fired. He ended up having a phone conversation with Trump. When he left in the early afternoon, he was still employed.
"I'm meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday when I get back from all of these meetings. And we'll be meeting at the White House, and we'll be determining what's going on," Trump told reporters in Manhattan, where he is attending the UN General Assembly. "We want to have transparency, we want to have openness and I look forward to meeting with Rod at that time." He didn't sound angry.
Trump has yet to come down on which version of the stories about Rosenstein he believes. Some White House officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill want Rosenstein to stay at least through the midterm elections, fearing the political uproar that would otherwise explode over removing the Mueller investigation's overseer and protector.
No budge on judge
The accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh have escalated from she-said to they-said. But Trump and Senate Republican leaders remained dug in with words of indignation in support of the Supreme court nominee.
"For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mentioned it and all of a sudden it happens, in my opinion it's totally political," said Trump, a day after an allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh from a former Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez.
Republicans rebuffed Democrats' demands for delay and investigation, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accusing them of a "smear campaign" and vowing to keep the nomination moving toward a full Senate vote "in the near future."
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer shot back: "If you really believe they are a smear job, why don't you call for FBI investigation?"
The original accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, is due to testify Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kavanaugh will appear after her.
Kavanaugh vowed, "I'm not going anywhere," and went on Fox News to dispute accounts of sexually predatory behavior in his student days. He said he was a virgin in high school, college and "many years after."
Janison: As the world turns
The world has changed — at least some of it, at least how Trump sees it — since the president made his first speech to the UN General Assembly a year ago.
Remember his denunciation of "the depraved regime in North Korea ... responsible for the starvation deaths of millions ... and for the imprisonment, torture, killing, and oppression of countless more." Or his warning that "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime." Trump calls him "Chairman Kim" now, finds him "very open and terrific" and hopes for a second summit meeting soon.
More familiar when Trump addresses the General Assembly on Tuesday will be remarks about Iran. In 2017, he warned, "We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles." Since then, Trump pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.
Moon sees a star
Trump met Monday in Manhattan with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held his own summit with Kim last week, reports Newsday's Emily Ngo. Moon told Trump what he loves to hear.
"Chairman Kim also repeatedly conveyed his unwavering trust and expectations for you," Moon told Trump through an interpreter. "You are, indeed, the only person who can solve this problem."
A cautious view of the state of U.S.-North Korean relations came from CIA Director Gina Haspel during a speech in Kentucky. Pyongyang views its nuclear weapons program as leverage and a key to the survival of its government, she said, adding, "I don't think that they want to give it up easily."
However, she said the United States is in a better place than during North Korea's unprecedented level of weapons testing last year "because of the dialogue we've established between our two leaders."
Trump in a state about Puerto Rico
Trump went off on a tirade about Puerto Rico during a radio interview with Geraldo Rivera, saying he was an "absolute no" on statehood for the territory because he doesn't like its politicians, especially San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
"With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn't be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they're doing," Trump said. Cruz, an opponent of statehood for the island, has been a persistent critic of Trump's response to Hurricane Maria.
The president also angrily repeated his attack on a study that estimated Maria's death toll at 2,975 and said there is a "Let’s blame Trump for everything" attitude.
Trump's comments drew a rebuke from Gov. Ricardo Rossello, a statehood advocate who has tried to maintain smoother relations with the president. To oppose statehood "based on a personal feud with a local mayor," Rossello said, is "insensitive, disrespectful comment to over 3 million Americans who live in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.".
What else is happening:
- If Rosenstein goes, the next in line to assume his responsibilities would be Solicitor General Noel Francisco. But there's a potential conflict because his former law firm represented the 2016 Trump campaign, a focus of Mueller's Russia investigation.
- Defending Kavanaugh, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway turned a famous Hillary Clinton line from 1998 about the Monica Lewinsky scandal inside out. "It's starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy," Conway said on "CBS This Morning."
- A federal judge in Los Angeles signaled he was leaning toward dismissing Stormy Daniels' defamation case against Trump, CNN reported. Judge S. James Otero said Trump's April tweet doubting Daniels' story about a man threatening her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 appeared to be well within the bounds of free speech.
- Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, says he has a client who claims to be a victim of Kavanaugh and is preparing to take her story public by Wednesday.
- Prosecutors in the upcoming trial of accused Mexican druglord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera have asked a federal judge in Brooklyn to prohibit defense lawyers from referencing Trump's recent comments criticizing the use of “flippers,” or cooperating witnesses, reports Newsday's John Riley.
- Geraldo Rivera asked Trump who would win if he played golf against former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. "Trump would win at golf very easily," he answered. Asked who has the longest drive, Trump says, "Trump ... These are facts. You know I like facts."