President Trump is scheduled to meet Thursday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, after reports swirled Monday that Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, would be departing the administration. Thursday is also when embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh plans to appear again before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff for President Clinton and as both CIA director and secretary of defense under President Obama, about Rosenstein's future, the Kavanaugh confirmation and the ongoing trade war with China.
"My sense is that, since they hesitated in prior days to actually go ahead and fire [Rosenstein], that the Thursday meeting may be about trying to reach some kind of mutual agreement as to when Rosenstein leaves," Panetta says. "I doubt whether they're going to meet, and then put out a headline that they fired him."
On whether Rosenstein would leave voluntarily
"I think if asked by the president, there's no question he would leave. He's a professional and he's somebody who understands that it's the president's decision as to whether or not he stays or goes. I think the bigger question for the president is, how much chaos does he want to get involved with? With midterms coming up, with the Kavanaugh nomination in trouble, it just seems that suddenly taking on the Justice Department and creating turmoil there and the Mueller investigation, that that's not something he needs at this moment."
"If it looks like they're trying to slam dunk it ... I think they'll face not only a backlash, but I'm not so sure that there aren't Republicans who would be very concerned about proceeding on that basis."Leon Panetta, on the possible fate of Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court
On what it would mean for the Mueller investigation if Rosenstein leaves his job
"It will raise a lot of questions, as to what will happen. It could be that whoever replaces Rosenstein, at least on an acting basis, will be somebody who will allow the Mueller investigation to proceed — after all, Jeff Sessions is still the attorney general, although there's some question about how long he'll be in that job. ... President [Trump] needs to be able to deal with a lot of chaos that's going on, and to go ahead and fire Rosenstein now, and raise questions about the Mueller investigation and add that to the issues that are going to be debated in the midterm, it just strikes me as being a strange decision. But then again, this White House has made a lot of strange decisions."
On whether Mueller will come out with something before the midterm elections, or wait until after
"I don't think there's any question that Bob Muller, being the professional that he is, is not going to come out with anything prior to the midterms. I would think he will report sometime after the midterms. He knows the politics involved with this issue, and he's been operating on the basis of really trying to present the evidence as they've been able to uncover the evidence, and bring the indictments in a true law enforcement fashion. So it would surprise me if Bob Muller didn't stay on his path of trying to complete his job, and issuing a thorough report at the end of it, and I don't think that's going to happen before the midterms."
On if Republicans are going to be able to get Kavanaugh confirmed
"It's getting more difficult each day, because as they try to get this nomination through, they at the same time have to — whether they like it or not — confront these issues that have been raised. If it looks like they're trying to slam dunk it and ignore the charges and not even look at these issues in a responsible way, I think they'll face not only a backlash, but I'm not so sure that there aren't Republicans who would be very concerned about proceeding on that basis."
On the chance Trump could nominate somebody else to the Supreme Court and get that person through the process, either before the midterms or before a new Congress in January
"It's a long shot, assuming that the Kavanaugh nomination for one reason or another doesn't make it. And to some extent, that depends on how long it goes on. If it looks like they're going to push a vote, and you're in the middle of October when that vote comes, then I think it's almost impossible assuming its nomination doesn't pass for the president to then nominate another person and try to get it through before the midterm elections. Now, I think the likelihood is that, assuming that the Democrats take charge of the House and who knows what happens on the Senate side, that it would be very difficult in a lame duck session to get a nomination approved that fast. I think you're looking at probably not getting a new justice until sometime next year."
This segment aired on September 25, 2018.