SPRINGFIELD, Mo. >> President Donald Trump has issued an ominous warning about the Justice Department and the FBI, promising more firings to rid a “lingering stench” after reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed secretly recording Trump.
Trump, at a political rally Friday night in Missouri, did not explicitly mention the Rosenstein furor, first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by The Associated Press.
But the president lashed out against what he perceives as anti-Trump bias in the Justice Department and cited the firings he already has orchestrated. The dismissals have unnerved many in federal law enforcement and raised fears about the future of the special counsel’s Russia investigation, which Rosenstein oversees.
“You’ve seen what happened in the FBI and the Department of Justice. The bad ones, they’re all gone. They’re all gone,” Trump said. “But there is a lingering stench and we’re going to get rid of that, too.”
One person present during Rosenstein’s remarks said the second-ranking official was being sarcastic. The Times also said Rosenstein raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office. Rosenstein said the story is “inaccurate and factually incorrect.”
It was the latest storm to buffet the White House.
Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump has backed off his plan to declassify documents related to that probe, and the fate of his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, remains uncertain.
Negotiations are continuing with the Senate Judiciary Committee about a possible appearance by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault at a high school party more than three decades ago.
Trump made the future of Kavanaugh and the federal judiciary a centerpiece of his rally in Springfield, which was designed to support Missouri’s attorney general, Josh Hawley, in his race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“I don’t know who she is with but she is not with the state of Missouri,” Trump said. “(Kavanaugh) is a fantastic man, a fantastic man. She won’t vote for him.”
But Trump, who used Twitter earlier Friday to cast doubt on Ford’s claim, preached optimism on Kavanaugh, saying “he was born for the U.S. Supreme Court” and reassuring the crowd that “it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen.”
He added: “We have to fight for him, not worry about the other side. And by the way, women are for that more than anybody would understand.”
When Hawley praised Trump’s judicial picks, the crowd began chanting Kavanaugh’s name.
The reports about Rosenstein created even greater uncertainty about his future at a time when Trump has lambasted Justice Department leadership and publicly humiliated both Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
More broadly, it’s the latest revelation that could affect Mueller, who is investigating possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
To Trump’s dismay, Sessions stepped aside from that issue soon after he took office, and it was Rosenstein who then appointed Mueller. Trump has resisted calls from conservative commentators to fire both Sessions and Rosenstein and appoint someone who would ride herd more closely on Mueller or dismiss him.
A number of key FBI officials, including Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, have been fired since Trump took office.
Republicans view the McCaskill-Hawley contest as one of their best chances of flipping a seat in the Senate, where the GOP has a slim 51-49 edge. Polls show the race is a toss-up.
Democrats are hoping the enthusiasm that’s put the GOP-led House in play will spill over to the Senate, though the political map there is much tougher. McCaskill is among 10 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election in states Trump won — some by wider margins than in Missouri.
On Thursday, Trump was in Nevada to campaign for Sen. Dean Heller, among the GOP incumbents considered to be the most vulnerable in the Nov. 6 election.
With the chances of Republicans keeping control of the House looking increasingly difficult, the White House has fixated on keeping the Senate as a bulwark against any Democratic effort to impeach and then remove Trump from office.