Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly said he might resign if President Donald Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Sessions’ statement came during a phone call last weekend with White House counsel Donald McGahn, according to The Washington Post.
Rosenstein’s involvement in the Russia investigation has long irked Trump after Sessions recused himself, but tensions between Rosenstein and the president spiked after the deputy attorney general signed off on the FBI raid on the office of Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
According to unnamed sources cited by the Post, Sessions didn’t mean his comments as a threat to the Trump administration but only wanted to express to McGahn the difficult position he would be in if Rosenstein would be fired.
Trump’s treatment of Rosenstein has reportedly annoyed Sessions. According to people who have spoken to the president, Trump has a habit of referring to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo” and Rosenstein as “Mr. Peepers,” a character from a 1950s sitcom.
As the head of the Russia investigation, Rosenstein’s firing could open a path for a new deputy attorney general who would be willing to close the probe that special counsel Robert Mueller is conducting.
A person familiar with the relation between the White House and the Justice Department explained that Sessions has “vacillated, I think, from being concerned about the deputy leaving or being fired and recognizing that Rosenstein has not been a friend of either him or the department.”
Rosenstein has been criticized for his role in firing James Comey as director of the FBI. But others say he’s prepared to continue his work despite the firestorm around him.
“I think he tends to view things in a very long-range way, kind of a this-too-shall-pass philosophy about the slings and arrows that will come at you,” James M. Trusty, a partner at Ifrah Law and a friend of Rosenstein’s, said, according to the Post.
Sessions’ departure would no doubt cause chaos in the Justice Department, but Trump has been silent in recent days over whether firing Rosenstein is something he has seriously considered.