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New York Times Reports Deputy General Rod Rosenstein Suggests Secretly Recording Trump

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Did the No. 2 official at the Justice Department propose secretly taping President Trump in the White House? That is the explosive headline of a story The New York Times broke today. The Times further reports that Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, suggested recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th amendment to remove the president from office. Rosenstein has put out a statement calling the report, quote, "inaccurate and factually incorrect." Michael Schmidt is one of two reporters who broke the story for The Times, and he's on the line. Hey, Mike.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: How are you? Thanks for having me.

KELLY: We are glad to have you on. And I want you to start by giving us a little bit more detail on what exactly you're reporting Rosenstein did.

SCHMIDT: So we're reporting about a period of time between the firing of Jim Comey in May of 2017 and the appointment of Bob Mueller. In that time, Rod Rosenstein was thrust into the spotlight. He was being criticized for his role in helping fire Comey. He was under pressure to appoint a special counsel because there were questions about why the president had done this. And in that period of time, he had discussions with law enforcement officials about different measures he was considering taking - one of them invoking the - trying to find others to help invoke the 25th Amendment, the way of ousting the president, and the other one about wearing a wire to record his conversations with the president.

KELLY: And for the record, did he or did he not ever actually do any of this?

SCHMIDT: Well, there's no indication that we have - and we say this in the story - that he did wear a wire, that there is no - that did not happen. What we're trying to capture here and tell the story of is the different measures that folks were considering in this period of time. It was an extraordinary period of time. And the Justice Department is under enormous amount of pressure. And Rosenstein, who had only been a U.S. attorney - up until that point, had never been a true, you know, national political figure in the sense that he was at the Trump administration - was trying to figure out how to open up an investigation of the president.

KELLY: Can you share detail on which members of the cabinet he was allegedly trying to bring onboard?

SCHMIDT: Well, he said to the senior FBI official at the time that he believed he could recruit Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and John Kelly, then the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, today White House chief of staff...

KELLY: Right.

SCHMIDT: ...To go along with this.

KELLY: I want to push you on your sourcing, especially in light of Rosenstein's denial. Your report relies on anonymous sources, none of whom if I'm reading it right had firsthand knowledge.

SCHMIDT: Well, you know, talking about anonymous sources - and, as we like to call them, unnamed sources because they are not anonymous to us - is a difficult thing for us to do. But what...

KELLY: Well, let me come at it this way. What gives you confidence in their accounts and their motives if none of them actually witnessed the conversations that you're reporting Rosenstein had?

SCHMIDT: Well, I don't think we say in the story that there's no firsthand folks. I don't think we explain that. But I understand your question. I think that...

KELLY: You say people describing the episodes who were briefed on the events or who read memos written about them.

SCHMIDT: The folks that we talked to for this story had been familiar with what was going on in this period of time. There had been memos that were created about them that were circulated at the FBI that memorialized the different events. And we got specific details that contradicted the Justice Department's explanation for this. The Justice Department said that Rosenstein made this comment sarcastically. When we went back and did more reporting, what happened was that Rosenstein was asked specifically in the meeting whether he was kidding, and he said he was not. And he came up with the idea of - he raised the idea of wiring up FBI agents who were going to be interviewed to be the next director.

KELLY: And real quick, in a sentence, what's the significance of this?

SCHMIDT: It shows the enormous stress the Justice Department was under in the aftermath of the Comey firing as they undertook what was ultimately the incredibly massive decision to appoint Bob Mueller as the special counsel.

KELLY: That's Michael Schmidt of The New York Times. Mike, thanks very much.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.