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JOHN BRUMMETT: The story so far

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general at this writing but maybe not by your reading, is the man whom the preposterous Russian-endorsed second-place president calls a central villain in a conspiracy by "Democrat loyalists" to engage in a witch-hunt against him.

The Democratic affiliation is a new one for Rosenstein, a Republican before Republicanism adapted to its dramatic new leader by going nuts.

In 1995-96, a 30-year-old Rosenstein--out of Penn and Harvard Law--was an up-and-comer on Republican justice-abuser Ken Starr's staff as Starr window-peeped on Bill Clinton.

Starr eventually got the tomcat Clinton on oral-sex receipt and lying about it.

Clinton shouldn't have lied about it. For that matter, he shouldn't have done the other, at least not when he did it. Sexual misbehavior in the 1990s was not yet the impetus for an approval-rating spike that it has become in Donald Trump's time, which history will record as The Era When the Religious Right Quit Even Pretending.

In 2005, then-President George W. Bush, a Republican in good standing because of starting bogus wars and cutting rich people's taxes, nominated Rosenstein to be the U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Rosenstein was the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country when, last April, he became deputy attorney general to that flaming anti-Trump liberal, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

What happened is that the Justice Department really had no choice but to investigate evidence of Russian tampering in our election, including the element that the Trump campaign might have benefited either by malevolent intent or pure naïve luck. Sessions, the Trump-appointed attorney general, asked his staff what the Justice Department's ethical guidelines said about his situation of heading a department about to embark on an investigation that would entail at least peripherally the Trump campaign that he had been a part of.

Sessions' staff told him that it seemed by the book that he ought to recuse and let deputy Rosenstein lead the Russia investigation. Sessions obliged.

Trump blew a gasket. He said Sessions should have told him beforehand that he intended to be ethical in which case he never would have made him attorney general.

All that served to install Rosenstein as the top dog in the Justice Department for the Russia investigation.

That was fine with Trump when he fired FBI director James Comey for insisting on investigating Russia, even though Comey had delivered him the presidency by smearing Hillary Clinton.

After the firing of Comey, Trump needed to concoct some basis for the firing--beyond what he told Russian officials, which was that things were going to be better for them now that he'd gotten rid of Comey. Rosenstein had dutifully produced a memo saying that Comey had messed up some things, mainly the Hillary Clinton matter.

But then, because he seems to be a competent justice-system professional beneath his perfectly credible pre-nuts Republicanism, Rosenstein--being, remember, effectively the attorney general for the Russia matter because Sessions had enraged Trump by being ethical--decided a special counsel was needed.

He selected another perfectly fine Republican of the pre-crazy era, Robert Mueller, whose bona fides were solid. Mueller went to Princeton. He was a Marine veteran of Vietnam with a Purple Heart. He was a Reagan appointee to the acting U.S. attorney's post in Massachusetts. He was a George W. Bush appointee to head the FBI, after which Barack Obama--who was not worried about self-protection or partisan allegiance in the Justice Department as Trump is--reappointed him.

So, to bring this up to date: Mueller has his head down and is doing his work without a high personal profile.

In recent days, Mueller presumably went to his boss, Rosenstein, with information he'd come across raising probable cause to suspect bank fraud by Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He asked what he should do.

Rosenstein and Mueller settled on a restrained course of action--farming the Russia-unrelated information to a U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, run by a Trump supporter who recused himself. That office then convinced a judge it needed a warrant to raid the Trump lawyer's office and home because probable cause existed to suspect a crime as well as that Cohen might not comply with a subpoena.

Then Trump went crazier and said the Ken Starr agent and George W. nominee--that's Rosenstein, remember--was a Democratic conspirator and that he might fire him and replace him with someone who would put the quietus on Mueller's investigation.

What all that means is that I buried the lead, which, as George Will put it the other day, was hiding in plain sight all along: Donald Trump became implausibly even more irrational last week because he desperately has something to hide.

Programming note: Watch James Comey get interviewed at 9 o'clock tonight on ABC. They are saying Comey compares Trump to a mob boss, surely a combination of Sonny's self-control and Fredo's intellect.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 04/15/2018

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