President Donald Trump has lost the moderating voices in his orbit and relies increasingly on those who cater to his worst impulses.
- President Donald Trump, furious over the Michael Cohen raids and surrounded by few moderating voices to control his instincts, appears to be on the cusp of firing deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
- Trump has been simmering at Rosenstein for months, but he reportedly viewed the FBI's raid of his longtime lawyer as a personal affront and a politically motivated hit job.
- The president's fury is compounded by his decision to surround himself with those who cater to his most rash impulses.
President Donald Trump has come unhinged after the FBI raided the offices and home of his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen.
The next person to likely face the chopping block: deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
The president's frustration with Rosenstein, attorney general Jeff Sessions, and other top Department of Justice officials is not new. But his animosity toward Rosenstein, in particular, has taken on a new significance as Trump relies increasingly on loyalists, like the conservative firebrands Sean Hannity and Joseph diGenova, and shuns others who may guard against his worst instincts.
Trump was reportedly enraged after it surfaced that FBI agents working for the US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York raided Cohen's property Monday morning, seizing electronic devices, personal financial records, and attorney-client communications between Trump and Cohen.
The Southern District of New York reportedly initiated the Cohen raids upon receiving a referral from the special counsel Robert Mueller after he likely uncovered evidence of potential wrongdoing related to Cohen that fell outside the purview of his investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 US election and the Trump campaign's possible involvement.
Cohen has been referred to at different times as Trump's fixer, "pit bull," and consigliere. In addition to facing legal scrutiny for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, Cohen is a subject of interest in at least four investigative threads related to Trump. As the president's right-hand man, Cohen also has intimate knowledge of Trump's most closely guarded secret: his personal finances.
Trump reacted to news of the raids on Monday by lashing out at top DOJ and FBI officials and described the investigations as a "TOTAL WITCH HUNT" in an early-morning tweet on Tuesday. In addition to publicly fuming about the news, Trump also privately began wondering whether he should fire Rosenstein, The New York Times reported.
The president's fury ratcheted up another notch when it emerged that Rosenstein had personally signed off on the FBI's decision to raid Cohen's office.
"He takes the Russia stuff as a political hit job," one source close to Trump told Axios. The Cohen raid "was a personal affront. This was the red line," they added.
'I've never seen him like this before'
The already delicate atmosphere in the West Wing is complicated by the fact that many of the voices who previously served as bulwarks against Trump's worst impulses have either left or been forced out of his orbit.
H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser and a moderating influence in the White House, was ousted last month and replaced by former UN ambassador John Bolton.
John Dowd, the seasoned defense attorney who was leading Trump's communications with Mueller's office, resigned from his legal team last month, reportedly frustrated that Trump was not following his advice. Trump's personal defense team is now spearheaded by Jay Sekulow, who has appeared frequently on Fox News and has little experience with high-profile criminal defense cases.
Trump is also said to be growing increasingly frustrated with the White House counsel Don McGahn, Axios reported on Wednesday. McGahn was critical in convincing Trump not to fire Mueller last year — according to The Times, Trump ordered McGahn to dismiss the special counsel last July but backed off when McGahn threatened to resign.
Perhaps the most consequential departure was that of Hope Hicks, the former communications director who left the administration last month after facing increased scrutiny over her role in the scandal surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter.
Hicks has been described as the person Trump was closest to and most comfortable with outside of his family, and she was often able to help him control his anger when controversies hit.
The Cohen raid was "the first crisis post-Hope Hicks," one source told Axios. "This was different: I've never seen him like this before."
Listening to more audacious voices
The Daily Beast reported that Trump dined with the Fox News pundit Jesse Watters and the controversial former White House aide Sebastian Gorka at the White House last month.
Following news of the Cohen raids on Monday, Hannity led his show with: "This is now officially an all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States."
"Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president," he added.
Meanwhile, Joseph diGenova, the controversial former federal prosecutor who was under consideration to join Trump's legal team, told Fox News on Monday that Congress should move to impeach Rosenstein and FBI director Christopher Wray.
The next day, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes told the conservative commentator Laura Ingraham he was prepared to impeach Rosenstein and Wray if they did not hand over documents he was seeking related to the Russia probe.
Trump picked up the thread Wednesday morning.
"No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back), so now they do the Unthinkable, and RAID a lawyers office for information! BAD!" he tweeted.
The president added that the US's deteriorating relationship with Russia was caused by the Russia probe, "headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for [former President Barack] Obama."
Trump then slammed Mueller for being the "most conflicted of all."
The only person more conflicted than Mueller, the president said, was Rosenstein.