WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. official who oversees the federal investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election last year suggested secretly recording President Donald Trump and recruiting Cabinet members to invoke a constitutional amendment to remove him from the White House, the New York Times reported on Friday.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the suggestions in the spring of 2017 after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the newspaper said.
The Times said Rosenstein told Justice Department and FBI officials the secret recordings could be used to expose the chaos of the administration after revelations that Trump asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him and also divulged classified information to Russians in the Oval Office.
Rosenstein denied the Times story as “inaccurate and factually incorrect” in a statement that also blamed anonymous sources promoting personal agendas.
The newspaper said its sources were people who were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by Federal Bureau of Investigation officials including Andrew McCabe, who became acting FBI director when Comey was fired.
McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, said he has no knowledge of how his memos were made available.
After Rosenstein wrote a memo critical of Comey’s handling of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, Trump used it as a basis for firing Comey. Rosenstein had told people he was caught off guard and felt he had been used, according to the Times.
As he got a close-up view of Trump’s interviews with prospective replacements for Comey and was attacked for his role in the firing, the Times said, “Rosenstein appeared conflicted, regretful and emotional, according to people who spoke with him at the time.”
Rosenstein told McCabe, who was also later fired by Trump, that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, the former homeland security secretary and current White House chief of staff, to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which deals with presidential succession and disability.
The Times said none of those proposals came to fruition.
Rosenstein assumed oversight of the investigation into Russian interference and possible coordination between Trump campaign members and Moscow because Sessions in March 2017 recused himself from the matter, citing his service on the campaign. In May 2017, Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation.
Trump has expressed frustration with the Russia probe, criticized the FBI as politically motivated and attacked Sessions repeatedly over his recusal. Moscow rejects the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that it meddled in the election.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu; editing by Grant McCool)