Fight about whether Rosenstein helped obstruct justice followed his 'joke' about secretly recording Trump: report
Rod Rosenstein plays a key role in overseeing the probe into alleged collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, which the president calls a politically motivated "witch hunt". (AFP/File / Brendan SMIALOWSKI)

A fight between Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the former acting director of the FBI led to the infamous "joking" suggestion that an official wear a wire to secretly record Donald Trump.

Based on interviews with Justice Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Washington Post reported that a feud between Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe, the embattled former acting FBI director, ensued following the meeting where the deputy AG allegedly brought up invoking the 25th Amendment to oust Trump.

Days after that initial meeting, the Post's sources said, there was a "smaller and more tense" gathering that included McCabe, Rosenstein and special counsel Robert Mueller.

"McCabe was summoned to meet with Rosenstein and Mueller to talk about his possible recusal," the officials said. "While the accounts of current and former officials familiar with the confrontation differ in some key respects, they agree on the basic terms of the discussion — Rosenstein wanted McCabe out of the Russia probe, and McCabe felt differently, arguing that it was the deputy attorney general, not the head of the FBI, who should step away from the case."

Rosenstein, the sources added, wanted McCabe to recuse himself because years earlier, the acting FBI director wore a shirt supporting his wife's run for state Senate in Virginia as a Democrat.

Rosenstein's reasoning was that McCabe "could not be considered objective in a political probe" — and two sources familiar with the meeting said the then-acting FBI director brought documents from FBI ethics officials that said he'd violated no rules.

McCabe, on the other hand, argued that Rosenstein should be the one to recuse himself because he'd written the memo justifying Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey under the guise of Comey's decision to re-open the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email scandal.

"Andy was angry," an official said, adding that McCabe at one point slapped a document down in front of Rosenstein in frustration.

Ultimately, neither men recused themselves, and Rosenstein has remained the official in charge of Mueller's largely-independent probe because the special counsel is, according to officials who spoke to the Post, "comfortable with that arrangement."