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Rosenstein Report Further Strains Relations Between White House And DOJ

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's hear from a former colleague of Rod Rosenstein. The deputy attorney general is under pressure for comments about President Trump - saying, reportedly, that he might record his talks with the president or get Cabinet members to remove him using the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. That was according to The New York Times. Now, a Justice Department official says those remarks were made sarcastically. But they prompted a response from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

MIKE POMPEO: If you can't be on the team - if you're not supporting this mission, then maybe you just ought to find something else to do. I've told that to my senior colleagues. I've told it to junior folks at the CIA and the State Department.

CHRIS WALLACE: And I assume that talking about wiring the president, talking about the 25th Amendment is not being on the team.

POMPEO: Not remotely.

INSKEEP: Pompeo talking with Chris Wallace there. Now, David Laufman joins us next. He worked with Rosenstein at the Justice Department until early this year, and he's with us this morning.

Good morning.

DAVID LAUFMAN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you make of these allegations?

LAUFMAN: Well, look. We're living at a time of unprecedented assaults on our democratic institutions and norms, on the independence and integrity of the Justice Department, respect for the rule of law. And in some respects, it's only natural for someone in Mr. Rosenstein's position to be thinking proactively about how to protect the department and our system of justice, which includes the special counsel's investigation. Maybe we'll learn something more in the coming days about the veracity of these reports. But in my experience with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, I've found him to be a careful, measured, rules-based individual. So I have a hard time believing he would seriously propose or support surreptitiously recording the president or be kibitzing with other government officials about invoking the 25th Amendment.

INSKEEP: Although - let's talk that through because you said it's only natural for someone in the Justice Department to think about how to preserve the integrity of the department, the integrity of the investigation. Are you saying it might have been reasonable, at least in a conversation, to ask - should I be wearing a wire; should I be thinking about these extreme measures?

LAUFMAN: I think those measures are so extreme that I just can't imagine the second-ranking official in the Department of Justice responsible for any of the day-to-day operations of the department, the acting attorney general for purposes of the Russian investigation, to be seriously discussing taking those kinds of measures - even in the extraordinary environment that we're in.

INSKEEP: Although - let me ask about that. I mean, the 25th Amendment - it's part of the Constitution. It's there. It's there for a reason. Would it not be actually part of an official's duty to at least have in the back of their mind, that might be something they might have to do with some president sometime?

LAUFMAN: Well, that certainly is a possibility. I mean, things could be worse than even we believe they are. And in such a circumstance, you hope that responsible officials - and I consider Mr. Rosenstein to be a responsible official - if they thought their constitutional duty required them to embark on those conversations, would have the will to do so.

INSKEEP: What was it like to be in the Justice Department at the moment that these remarks, sarcastic or not, seem to have been made? This is early - this is spring of 2017. Jim Comey has just been fired as FBI director. What was it like to be there?

LAUFMAN: I think the firing of Director Comey, notwithstanding some of the issues that Mr. Rosenstein addressed in his memo that were addressed by the inspector general's report, was...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah - his criticism of Comey that was used as justification for the firing.

LAUFMAN: Right. Notwithstanding all of that, I think the firing was quite shocking to the Department of Justice men and women, rank-and-file, other officials and certainly within the bureau. So you know, it was just a sudden, you know, horrible event in the life of the Department of Justice and the men and women who work there. And I can see how something like that conceivably could spark discussions about, you know, the president and what other steps potentially to take.

INSKEEP: I'm sure you're still in contact with friends inside the Department of Justice. Do you think that people feel now that they're on strong footing, that they know where they're going and they're determined to get there?

LAUFMAN: Well, look. They're human beings like the rest of us. They read the news. They, you know, hear what's going on in our government. And I think they find it more than a little distressing. But at the end of the day, they're extremely mission-driven and focused. And I think what they are about is performing the work that they were hired to do and serving the United States.

INSKEEP: David Laufman, former Justice Department official.

Thanks very much.

LAUFMAN: Good morning. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.