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Rod Rosenstein resigned and thanked Trump for his ‘courtesy’. Is this the saddest ever case of Stockholm syndrome?

Of all those who have been turned to filth by Trump’s Sidam touch, he is the runtiest of the litter. Once keen to remove this obscenity from the planet’s most powerful position, he chose silence instead

Matthew Norman
Tuesday 30 April 2019 13:18 BST
The deputy attorney general announced his resignation, effective 11 May, today
The deputy attorney general announced his resignation, effective 11 May, today (AP)

Rod Rosenstein, the latest broken soul to join the exodus from the Trump house of torture, saved his best until last.

Admittedly, that isn’t the highest of bars to clear. For almost two years, the soon-to-be ex-deputy attorney general of the US covered himself in whatever the polar opposite of glory might be.

If ever a Harvard politics professor teaches Rosenstein Studies, the theme will be a familiar form of corruption. As the feeble do in all foul regimes, Rosenstein legitimised the repulsive in the self-deceiving delusion that staying to fight from the inside is the noble choice.

He didn’t fight, and he isn’t staying. Weeks after standing mute and miserable at William Barr’s left hand while the attorney general slathered the Mueller Report with the brightest white in the Dulux colour code chart, Rosenstein has handed in his resignation letter.

It isn’t the first time he offered to quit. It is at least the third. But this time the president at whose displeasure he served has seen fit to accept.

Whether Trump bothered to wade through the text is unknown. Since it runs to several hundred words, many bisyllabic and some even longer than that, and has no pictures, that seems unlikely. But if he didn’t make it to the halfway mark, he missed a treat.

“As I submit my resignation effective on 11 May,” wrote Rosenstein, “I am grateful to you for the… courtesy and humour you often show in our personal conversations.”

Rosenstein doesn’t himself strike the eye as a determined humorist. He does look a bit like Stephen Colbert, though not the Colbert of this timeline. The Colbert who has just been released, physically and psychologically broken beyond repair, after three years building the Burma railway in the tender care of the Japanese.

Yet here we find Rosenstein thanking Trump not only for the dazzling wit the world has learned to treasure, but for his equally celebrated politesse.

The two qualities were never more exquisitely combined than in Trump’s retweeting of an image last November. At the back of a group featuring Obama, both Clintons, Mueller and James Comey, behind the bars of a cell and beneath the caption, “Now that Russian collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?”, stands Rosenstein.

There is a distinction between the personal and the public. It could be that the private Trump is a million miles from the raving paranoiac depicted by various of his chroniclers.

Perhaps when he first entertained Rosenstein after that retweet, he put an arm around his shoulders, assured him it was all in jest, asked how his Auntie Stella was settling in to her Florida condo, and cheered him up with a barrage of Wildean apercus. And perhaps not.

The rest of his letter can be read in one of two ways. Either Rosenstein is the saddest Stockholm syndromite in this administration’s history (which would, given the rivalry of Jeff Sessions, whose recusal from overseeing the collusion enquiry led to Rosenstein hiring Mueller, be some achievement).

Or he is one of the crudest ironists who ever lived. “The Department [of Justice],” he writes, within a fortnight of tacitly endorsing a Mueller whitewash to cauterise the eyeballs from a mile off, “bears a special responsibility to avoid partisanship.

“We enforce the law without fear or favour because credible evidence is not partisan… We keep the faith, we follow the rules,” he added on the day news broke that Trump has filed a federal suit to prevent two banks, Deutsche and Capital One, complying with congressional subpoenas.

The House of Representatives intelligence and financial services committees are eager to hear their testimony about matters – including possibly exotic real estate deals – Trump would rather keep to himself. The rules about such subpoenas are plain. They must be obeyed. Following them, for Trump, is not a matter of faith.

“And,” continued Rosenstein with a closing dive into the cesspit of Trumpian neo-fascist sloganeering, “we always put America first.”

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There was a time, very early in the job, when Rosenstein’s notion of putting America first was invoking the 25th amendment, the constitutional mechanism to remove a president who is unfit to serve.

It was claimed that he felt he could persuade his seniors, including Sessions and future chief of staff John Kelly, that this was imperative, and also that he discussed covertly taping conversations with Trump.

Although this was probably because he was desperate to record the president’s most hilarious apercus verbatim for posterity, several sources described him as “conflicted, regretful and emotional”. He apparently offered his first resignation to Kelly on 24 September 2018.

Seven months later, as he prepares to go, little more is known about this career lawyer than when he took the post. He has managed to be a central player in the saga without making a fraction of the impression left by Anthony Scaramucci in his marathon 11-day stint as communications chief.

But of all those who have been turned to filth by the Sidam touch (anti Midas) of Trump, he is the runtiest of the litter. He saw in crystal clarity and voiced the need to remove an obscenity from the planet’s most powerful position. By shutting his eyes and falling silent he became a traitor, if not in quite the way Trump imagined with his wonted courtesy and wit.

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