Rod Rosenstein is doing a star turn as principled defender of the law, but he’s performed abysmally as deputy attorney general and President Donald Trump would be fully justified in firing him.
The leaked questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump in a prospective deposition are, if accurate, a sign that Mueller has spun out of control on Rosenstein’s watch.
The questions suggest a free-floating investigation of the president’s motives, undertaken by a subordinate of the president. This is unlike any special-counsel investigation we’ve ever seen and represents a significant distortion of our system.
Per the questions, Mueller wants to know how Trump reacted to news stories in the Washington Post. What he thought of FBI Director James Comey during the transition. What was the purpose of a statement he made to Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. What he meant by a various tweets about Comey. How he feels about his attorney general.
This is a sweeping and intrusive inquiry that isn’t just about about official acts, but about the president’s state of mind. Mueller doesn’t just want to know what Trump did or what he said, but what were his thoughts in any given moment.
It’s an avenue of investigation that is literally boundless. Mueller wants to know what Trump did when the news broke in January 2018 that the president considered firing Mueller the year before. Perhaps now there will be a question about what Trump thought when the New York Timesreported that Mueller wants to ask him about his thinking.
These queries grow out of an obstruction of justice probed centered, as far as we can tell, on Trump’s exercise of the legitimate powers of the presidency. Mueller is out to prove that Trump had ill intentions. But this is an inherently problematic inquiry that involves a subordinate second-guessing the president on highly political questions.