President Donald Trump said on Monday that he has no plans to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose future has been the source of intense speculation for two weeks.
Mr Trump made the announcement as he returned to the White House after traveling with Mr Rosenstein to an international police chiefs’ conference in Florida.
The flight provided an opportunity for their most extensive conversation since news reports last month that Mr Rosenstein had discussed the possibilities in early 2017 of secretly recording Mr Trump to expose chaos in the White House and invoking constitutional provisions to have him removed from office.
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Those reports triggered an avalanche of speculation about the future of Mr Rosenstein – and also the special counsel's investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the election. The Deputy Attorney General appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to his special counsel post and closely oversees his work.
"I'm not making any changes," Mr Trump said after meeting with the Deputy Attorney General. "We just had a very nice talk. We actually get along."
Mr Trump said earlier in the day that he had "a very good relationship" with Mr Rosenstein and was eager to speak with him aboard Air Force One on the flight to Florida.
They did talk, for about 45 minutes, but not alone, a White House spokesman said. The subjects: violent crime in Chicago, support for local law enforcement, border security, the conference they were flying to and "general DOJ business," spokesman Hogan Gidley said without elaboration.
"I didn't know Rod before, but I've gotten to know him," Mr Trump said at the White House earlier.
The Justice Department issued statements meant to deny the reporting, saying Mr Rosenstein never pursued or authorised recording the president and did not believe there was a basis for invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which would involve the Cabinet and vice president agreeing to remove him.
And the remark about secretly recording the president was meant sarcastically, according to a statement the department issued from someone who it said was in the room.
Even so, Mr Rosenstein told White House officials that he was willing to resign and arrived at the White House a week-and-a-half ago, with the expectation that he would be fired. He met in person with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and spoke by phone with Mr Trump during a tumultuous day that ended with him still in his job.
Mr Rosenstein and Mr Trump had been expected to meet at the White House days later, but that meeting was put off so that the President could focus on the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The President had previously said that he would prefer not to fire the Justice Department's No 2 official and that Mr Rosenstein had told him he did not say the remarks attributed to him. Advisers had also cautioned Mr Trump against doing anything dramatic in the weeks before the midterm elections next month.
Mr Kelly was present for Monday's conversation between the pair, the White House said, as was Mr Rosenstein's top deputy at the Justice Department, Ed O'Callaghan.
The speculation over Mr Rosenstein's future concerned Democrats, who feared that a dismissal could lead to Mr Trump curtailing Mr Mueller's probe. Although Mr Trump has at times criticised his Deputy Attorney General, he has reserved his sharpest verbal attacks for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017 because of his own earlier involvement with the Trump campaign.
Both men will likely see their futures re-evaluated after the elections, Trump advisers have said.
Besides the meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Rosenstein has also agreed to a private meeting with House Republicans who want to question him about his reported statements on the president.