WASHINGTON • Deputy US Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein suggested to Department of Justice (DOJ) colleagues last year that he secretly record conversations with President Donald Trump in the White House, as well as possibly try to remove him from office, according to an article in the New York Times that cited people familiar with memos written by former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe.
The account paints Mr Rosenstein as so concerned in May last year in the wake of Mr Trump's firing of then Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey that he contemplated secretly recording conversations with the President.
He also initiated discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment, which details how the Cabinet can decide whether a president is no longer able to discharge the duties of the office, one of the McCabe memos said.
The revelations immediately prompted speculation that Mr Trump might seize on the new information to fire Mr Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election and whether any Trump associates conspired in those efforts.
Speaking at a rally in Springfield, Missouri, on Friday evening, Mr Trump said: "Just look at what's being exposed at the Department of Justice and the FBI. We have great people in the Department of Justice... but we have some real bad ones. You see what's happening at the FBI, they're all gone, they're all gone. But there's a lingering stench and we're going to get rid of that, too."
People familiar with the 2017 discussions - and the memos written about the discussions - offered wildly divergent accounts of what was said and what was meant. One person who was in the room when Mr Rosenstein made the comment about wearing a wire said it was a joke and there was never an intention of actually recording a conversation with the President.
SOME REAL BAD ONES
Just look at what's being exposed at the Department of Justice and the FBI. We have great people in the Department of Justice... but we have some real bad ones. You see what's happening at the FBI, they're all gone, they're all gone. But there's a lingering stench and we're going to get rid of that. ''
U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, appearing to allude to the report about Deputy US Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein.
The New York Times' story is inaccurate and factually incorrect... Based on my personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.
DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY-GENERAL ROD ROSENSTEIN
Mr Rosenstein disputed the New York Times account of the comments. "I never pursued or authorised recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false," he said in a statement released on Friday night.
"I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."
The report is explosive because Mr Rosenstein appointed Mr Mueller. If Mr Rosenstein is fired or quits, a successor could rein in or end the probe into Russian election interference that the President has long denounced as a "witch hunt" initiated by anti-Trump forces.
Mr McCabe was fired this year, and a grand jury is weighing possible charges against him for allegedly misleading investigators in a leak probe.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer quickly warned Mr Trump against seizing on the report as a reason to dismiss Mr Rosenstein.
"This story must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing deputy attorney-general Rosenstein in order to install an official who will allow the President to interfere with the special counsel's investigation," Mr Schumer said in a statement.
Some conservative Republicans critical of Mr Rosenstein were cautious in saying whether they would trust allegations in memos from Mr McCabe, who has been an even more frequent target of their condemnation.
"Andy McCabe is under investigation for lying to the FBI. His words and memos should be viewed with extreme scepticism," Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a tweet.
"But if this story is true, it underscores a gravely troubling culture at FBI/DOJ and the need for FULL transparency. Declassify everything. Let Americans judge," the tweet added.
WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG