WASHINGTON, U.S. - The federal investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, in a bid to swing the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election in the favor of Donald Trump, has developed dramatically over the last few months.
While earlier this month it appeared as if the Special Counsel Robert Mueller had scored a decisive victory, after Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort agreed to flip - on Friday, a bombshell media expose changed everything.
A report in The New York Times quoted anonymous sources as revealing a plot that was hatched by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to topple the U.S. President Donald Trump.
The NYT report stated that several people with knowledge of certain internal deliberations had insisted on anonymity and had revealed the failed plans put forward by Rosenstein, that were aimed at removing Trump as the Commander-in-Chief.
The episodes were reportedly described to NYT in interviews over the past several months and revealed that last year, "the deputy attorney general suggested that he secretly record Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration."
The report further claimed that "Rosenstein discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office for being unfit."
According to NYT, the sources quoted in its report were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by FBI officials, including the then acting bureau director, Andrew McCabe.
These memos reportedly documented Rosenstein’s actions and comments.
Rod Rosenstein's tenure as the Deputy Attorney General has been marked with one troubling situation after the other.
Merely two weeks into his job, Rosenstein was faced with one of his biggest challenges in the role after Trump fired the FBI Director James Comey.
While Trump would later admit to the media that he fired Comey over the Russia collusion probe - the U.S. President initially linked his decision to remove the FBI director with a memo Rosenstein drafted.
At the time, Rosenstein had just begun overseeing the Russia probe after the Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the probe.
Merely two weeks into his role, the Deputy Attorney General now had complete oversight of an investigation against the President of the United States.
At the point, Rosenstein drafted a memo, in which he was critical of Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.
However, when this memo was cited as the reason by Trump to fire the FBI director, Rosenstein was taken aback.
At the time, shocked and shaken, Rosenstein was reported to have told close aides that he feared he "had been used" by the administration.
Then, a few days later, Trump admitted in a media interview that he fired Comey over “this Russia thing.”
The sources claim that Rosenstein, who continued to face attacks for the role he was portrayed to have played in Comey's ouster, was by now conflicted and emotional.
The NYT report quoted people, who spoke with him at the time, as saying that he hatched the plot to topple Trump after Comey was fired.
The sources claimed that Rosenstein was disoriented in the days that followed Comey's dismissal.
Attacked over the high profile firing, Rosenstein had been sitting in on Trump's interviews with prospective FBI directors.
This is when, sources claim, Rosenstein had an up-close view of the tumult within Trump's White House.
The report stated that Rosenstein appeared conflicted, regretful and emotional.
Proving Trump unfit
The report claims that the growing turmoil in the aftermath of Comey's removal wasn't the only reason that Rosenstein suggested moves to topple Trump.
A few days after firing Comey, the Trump White House found itself in an even bigger, more dangerous situation.
The Washington Post revealed that the U.S. President held a highly controversial meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office, during which, Trump divulged classified intelligence.
The report quoted current and former U.S. officials as saying that Trump had revealed highly classified information to senior Russian officials, putting a source of intelligence on the Islamic State at risk.
The classified intelligence was related to an ISIS terror threat involving the use of laptop computers on aircraft.
Trump's actions drew bipartisan condemnation since the information he relayed was provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement and was so sensitive that Washington even withheld it from allies.
Soon, reports began to reveal that Trump had allegedly demanded that Comey pledge loyalty to him, drop an investigation against the now-ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and even declare if there is an ongoing probe into alleged collusion.
By spring of 2017, Rosenstein first made the remarks about secretly recording Trump to expose the turmoil within the White House.
The report claimed that Rosenstein proposed using the 25th Amendment during meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and FBI officials.
However, the NYT report clarified that none of Rosenstein’s proposals came to fruition.
According to the report, Rosenstein told McCabe that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the the Secretary of Homeland Security and current White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Laugh it off
After the report appeared on Friday, Rosenstein sharply refuted the claims made in the report.
Rosestein issued a statement saying, "The New York Times's story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."
Responding to the report, a Justice Department statement released by a spokeswoman provided a statement from a person who was reportedly present when Rosenstein proposed wearing a wire.
The statement by the unnamed person acknowledged Rosenstein's remark, but pointed out that the Deputy Attorney General made the comment sarcastically.
The former senior Justice Department official said, "I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment. The statement was sarcastic and never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president."
The report pointed out that McCabe's interpretation of Rosenstein's statement was that it was a serious suggestion, however, others in the room have said that it was clearly a joke.
In response to the NYT report, McCabe released a statement through his lawyer, Michael Bromwich, in which he did not deny the allegations in the article.
The statement also acknowledged that McCabe had written memos to keep a record of his discussions with top administration officials.
Bromwich said, "Andrew McCabe drafted memos to memorialize significant discussions he had with high level officials and preserved them so he would have an accurate, contemporaneous record of those discussions. When he was interviewed by the Special Counsel more than a year ago, he gave all of his memos -- classified and unclassified -- to the Special Counsel's office. A set of those memos remained at the FBI at the time of his departure in late January 2018. He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained those memos."
Mueller probe jeopardized?
Despite Rosenstein's denials, experts now claim that the report is set to embolden the voices seeking the Deputy Attorney General's ouster, within the Trump administration and including the President himself.
Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to head the Russia-Trump collusion probe after Comey was fired.
Then, in June 2017, Mueller was first revealed to have begun investigating claims of 'Obstruction of Justice' made against the President by Comey.
Trump tweeted at the time, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt."
Trump's attitude toward the investigation only got worse and his frustration against the probe and those behind it became more obvious in his tweets and through leaks.
Further, many of Trump’s conservative allies, who initially praised Mueller’s selection as special counsel, immediately begun attacking his credibility - an effort that has continued since then.
Trump's repeated attacks in the months that followed even led Rosenstein to briefly consider recusing himself from the probe.
Mueller's probe into Trump's alleged 'Obstruction of Justice' - a claim if proved could lead to certain impeachment - further soured Rosenstein's ties with Trump.
Since then, the President has increased his attacks on the Justice Department, Rosenstein, Mueller and the Russia probe.
At one point earlier this year, conservative House members even discussed impeaching Rosenstein.
So far, despite suggestions from his lawyers and advisers to fire Rosenstein, Trump has heeded to warnings against such a move, which is set to provoke a political firestorm.
Now, experts claim that the NYT report might have handed Trump an excuse to fire Rosenstein and discredit Mueller's probe further.
On Friday, the revelations made in the article led to another round of attacks against federal law enforcement by Trump.
In an interview with The Hill, Trump said that he hopes his assaults on the FBI turn out to be “one of my crowning achievements,” and that he only wished he had terminated Comey sooner.
Trump reportedly said, “If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries. I should have fired him right after the convention. Say, ‘I don’t want that guy.’ Or at least fired him the first day on the job.”
After the NYT report was published, the President's son, Donald Trump Jr took to Twitter to react to the revelations.
Trump Jr tweeted, "Shocked!!! Absolutely Shocked!!! Ohhh, who are we kidding at this point? No one is shocked that these guys would do anything in their power to undermine [Donald Trump].”
Meanwhile, North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus, reacted to the story by tweeting, "If this story is true, it underscores a gravely troubling culture at FBI/DOJ and the need for FULL transparency."
However, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the Times story "must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing deputy attorney general Rosenstein in order install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the special counsel's investigation."
Yet, experts believed that the report is sure to cause much damage to Mueller's current strong position and possibly the probe itself.
Tom Fitton, President of the Trump-aligned group Judicial Watch reacted to the report by declaring that the NYT story made Mueller’s probe illegitimate.
Fitton tweeted, "This is disturbing and confirms how the Justice Department thinks it is a law unto itself. Shut Mueller special counsel down."