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1 law could determine who replaces Rosenstein

It is unclear whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will resign or be fired when he sits down with President Trump, but CNN's John Avlon explains why whatever does happen could determine who takes his place if he leaves.

Posted: Sep. 26, 2018 4:53 AM
Updated: Sep. 26, 2018 5:22 AM

We're now a little more than 36 hours from the face-to-face meeting between President Donald Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Since Monday morning -- when rumors spread like wildfire that Rosenstein was on his way to resign to chief of staff John Kelly -- the expectation has been that Trump will can Rosenstein on Thursday.

Not so fast.

This, from CNN's Jeff Zeleny, is instructive about how dangerous it is to make predictions about what Trump will do about, well, anything:

"Rosenstein could find himself in a similar position (to Attorney General Jeff Sessions), two officials suggested: one of obvious enmity with the President, but without being fired. Like Sessions, it's almost certainly not a question of whether he gets replaced, but when. But that timing could come well after the midterm elections, the officials say."

There are two reasons -- one practical, one psychological -- that suggest that Rosenstein could be spared on Thursday.

First, the practical. Virtually every Republican in elected office has urged Trump to keep Rosenstein on the job -- for now. The concern among that group is that the Senate is already embroiled in a confirmation fight over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And, with the 2018 midterms set for six weeks from today, the last thing they need is to face down a series of questions about whether the President is purposely meddling in the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller that Rosenstein currently oversees.

"If he were to fire him or forced to resign, that would be a very significant issue because he's the person in charge of the Mueller investigation," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told CNN's Manu Raju on Tuesday afternoon. "If there's any attempt to fire or force out Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, that would be a huge red line and very problematic."

Republicans' nerves are already frazzled by the increasingly dire predictions of their House majority's future and mounting worries about whether the seemingly impregnable Senate majority could be in jeopardy as well. "Please no more!," Republicans will tell Trump if he happens to ask.

Second, the psychological. Trump LOVES turning expectations about him -- and what he will do -- on his head. The boardroom scenes in "The Apprentice" and "The Celebrity Apprentice" were chock full of just these sorts of expectation reversals. You would be led to believe -- thanks to editing and Trump's own rhetoric -- that he was going to fire, say, Dennis Rodman. But then he fires Andrew Dice Clay. (Ohhhhh!)

Also, never forget how Trump built up the suspense on whether he would strip Miss California -- Carrie Prejean -- of her crown after she expressed her personal opposition to same-sex marriage and some nearly-nude pictures of her were posted online. He built the event up -- and up -- before sparing Prejean, playing the role of magnanimous magnate to a massive press corps assembled for the "event."

The Point: This showdown sitdown with Rosenstein on Thursday is the stuff that Trump has always loved. All eyes on him, wondering if he will swing the executioner's ax or show mercy. And no one -- maybe not even him -- knowing what he will do until he does it. 

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