President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would “certainly prefer not” to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and that he may delay a highly anticipated meeting with the Justice Department’s No. 2 official.
Trump said Rosenstein denied making remarks first attributed to him in a New York Times report, including that he had discussed possibly secretly recording the president and using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
Seeking to defuse any confusion, Trump suggested that he would like to keep Rosenstein at the Justice Department and allow him to finish up his work there.
“I would much prefer keeping Rod Rosenstein,” Trump said at a news conference in New York. “He said he did not say it. He said he does not believe that. He said he has a lot of respect for me, and he was very nice and we’ll see.”
Trump added, “My preference would be to keep him and to let him finish up.”
Rosenstein is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and his dismissal would put that probe in jeopardy and create a political storm. Trump has frequently dismissed the probe as a partisan “witch hunt” orchestrated by Democrats.
In suggesting that he might postpone Thursday’s meeting, Trump said he was focused on the extraordinary Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set for the same day with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers.
“I may call Rod tonight or tomorrow and ask for a little bit of a delay to the meeting, because I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of this very important Supreme Court pick,” Trump said.
Any delay in the meeting would prolong the uncertainty of Rosenstein’s status. Rosenstein headed to the White House on Monday morning preparing to be fired and had discussed a possible resignation over the weekend with White House officials. But after meeting with chief of staff John Kelly and speaking by phone with Trump, he got a reprieve with the Trump meeting scheduled for Thursday.
Since then, the White House has sought to tamp down anxiety that Rosenstein would be fired.
White House officials called senators Monday to say Trump had said he wouldn’t be firing Rosenstein at the meeting, according to two people familiar with the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.
“Not wanting to fire Rod Rosenstein is consistent with what I have understood for weeks, not just days,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who talks to Trump often.
Rosenstein, who has spent his entire career in government, “has tremendous loyalty to the department,” said former Justice Department lawyer and longtime friend James Trusty.
“He’s a very long-run, historical-minded guy in a lot of ways,” Trusty said. “I think he may have some confidence that history will be kinder to him than politicians are.”
Trump’s remarks Wednesday followed a chaotic period that began Friday with reports that Rosenstein had last year discussed possibly secretly recording the president and invoking the Constitution to remove Trump from office. The Justice Department issued statements Friday aimed at denying the reports, including one that said the wiretap remark was meant sarcastically.
Even if Rosenstein survives the week, it’s not clear how much longer he’ll be around. Trump has signaled that he may fire Sessions after the midterms, and Rosenstein could go with him.
But some say it could be sooner: Some officials around Trump believe Rosenstein’s reported musings about invoking the 25th Amendment could make it defensible for Trump to part with him, even during the final sprint to Election Day.
Rosenstein’s friends and former colleagues describe him as someone unlikely to leave on his own, though they say he respects the chain of command enough to resign if asked.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.