The public was confused following conflicting reports about whether deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein would resign, and officials on the inside may have been just as much in the dark.
The public was confused for much of Monday morning following conflicting reports about whether deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein was about to resign from his position.
And officials on the inside may have been just as much in the dark as observers on the outside.
"DOJ officials have been shell-shocked by the back and forth public critique of Rosenstein," said Jeffrey Cramer, a 12-year DOJ veteran who says he's been briefed on the internal mood at the department by multiple high-level contacts. "Today, they were wandering the halls wondering what's next, because you need an operational [deputy attorney general]."
Rosenstein did not ultimately resign, nor was he fired on Monday morning.
The news website Axios first reported on Rosenstein's possible resignation, saying he had "verbally resigned" to White House chief of staff John Kelly. Rosenstein's reported move came after The New York Times published a controversial report last week saying the deputy attorney general discussed wearing a wire around President Donald Trump and invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office.
Rosenstein vehemently denied the allegations, and subsequent media reports also called into question some of the details in the original Times story.
White House officials told The Washington Post that Rosenstein offered to resign in the wake of The Times story.
But DOJ officials told The Post that while Rosenstein went to the White House on Monday expecting to be fired, he did not offer to resign, despite reportedly weighing the option over the weekend following The Times' report.
White House Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein had an "extended conversation" with the president about the news on Monday and that the two would meet again on Thursday.
People at the FBI were on tenterhooks Monday morning, according to one current FBI agent.
There was "no doubt that rank and file would be angry if Rod Rosenstein stepped down or got fired because of that NYT report," this person said.
"Many were on high-alert this morning," they added.
Axios reported on Monday evening that after it published its initial story floating Rosenstein's resignation, the DOJ drafted a statement announcing his exit, written "in the voice" of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
After commending Rosenstein for his long career as a public servant, the draft statement reportedly went on to say Matt Whitaker, Sessions' chief of staff, would serve as deputy attorney general, and that Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, would become acting attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation and the special counsel Robert Mueller.
"People who are very high up at the DOJ have understandably all been reticent because they're all just looking over their shoulders," Cramer said.
"Especially now, because as of this morning you had an [attorney general] who was impotent, you had a possibly non-existent [deputy attorney general], and the solicitor general possibly taking over," he added. "The hierarchy of the DOJ was all out of whack, as far as anyone there knew, because the [attorney general] doesn't run things, it's the [deputy attorney general] who's operational. He's the COO."