Rosenstein quits? Or has he been fired?

This article is more than 12 months old

Deputy attorney-general overseeing probe into alleged Russian meddling in 2016 presidential election 'ready to be sacked'

WASHINGTON : US deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the probe into alleged collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump's election campaign in 2016, was about to resign or be fired, reports said yesterday.

Several US media reports, including in The New York Times and The Washington Post, said Mr Rosenstein was preparing to be dismissed, following the publication of reports that he had discussed ways to remove Mr Trump over the latter's perceived incompetence.

NBC News reported that Mr Rosenstein said he would not resign and the White House would have to fire him.

It was not immediately clear whether he would be sacked, or would resign first, the reports said.

A Reuters report, quoting a person familiar with the matter, said Mr Rosenstein has not resigned and is still serving as deputy attorney-general.

Mr Rosenstein had a previously scheduled meeting at the White House at noon on Monday. He is still the deputy attorney general and is attending a "substantive meeting" in that capacity, the person was quoted as saying.

The departure of Mr Rosenstein - possibly giving Mr Trump an opportunity to get more of a loyalist as a replacement - would dramatically rock the probe into whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign in his shock presidential election victory.

Mr Rosenstein plays a key role in overseeing the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which Mr Trump calls a politically motivated "witch hunt", AFP reported.

In a highly unusual move for a US president, Mr Trump has repeatedly attacked the Justice Department and the FBI, claiming they are biased against him.

Last Friday, Mr Trump referred in a speech to supporters to a "lingering stench" at the Justice Department that he would soon eradicate.

The rancour between Mr Trump and his own law enforcement officials took an extraordinary turn with reports that in May last year Mr Rosenstein suggested secretly recording Mr Trump for evidence of White House dysfunction - and using that to remove him from power.

The New York Times and Washington Post reports were based on secret memos by a former FBI director - which some speculated may have been leaked in order to undermine Mr Rosenstein, and in turn Mr Mueller's probe.

Mr Rosenstein denied the report as "inaccurate and factually incorrect".

Democrat opponents and also many from his own Republican Party have warned Mr Trump not to take any action that could be seen as attempting to weaken or dismantle the Russia probe.

Earlier in his tenure, Mr Rosenstein had a rocky relationship with Mr Trump, say people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported.

He was a regular target of Mr Trump's complaints about Mr Mueller's investigation.

But in recent months, the relationship between the two men had improved, people familiar with the matter say.

Mr Trump last month described his rapport with Mr Rosenstein as "fantastic".