President Donald Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was “on my team” in a December meeting at the White House, according to CNN.
In a report cited to “sources familiar with the meeting” by CNN, Trump asked Rosenstein — who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — where the Russia probe is going and may have inquired about his loyalty.
“Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” Rosenstein told Trump awkwardly, CNN reported.
It’s unclear how Rosenstein interpreted the remark, either. When testifying before a House committee in December, he denied ever having been asked to take a loyalty pledge.
“Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge, other than the oath of office,” Rosenstein testified.
The report is the latest in a string of episodes in which Trump appeared to press or demand law enforcement officials and members of the judiciary who are supposed to remain independent for their loyalty.
In a private dinner with then-FBI Director James Comey in January, Trump asked if he wanted to remain in his job and told him “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” as Comey testified to Congress later.
In February, Trump was reportedly angry over comments made by Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch that he considered pulling his nomination over concerns that he would not be “loyal,” according to the Washington Post.
After Trump fired Comey, he then asked Acting Director Andrew McCabe how he voted in the 2016 election during a meeting in the Oval Office in May, as the Post reported later.
In a December interview with the New York Times, Trump also praised former Attorney General Eric Holder for showing loyalty to President Obama: “I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him … And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest.”
Trump has long valued loyalty. A cursory review of his Twitter account reveals dozens of times when he has accused everyone from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton to the Macy’s department chain of being disloyal.
In his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump praised his friend, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, for his loyalty. “Just compare that with all the hundreds of ‘respectable’ guys who make careers out of boasting about their uncompromising integrity but have absolutely no loyalty,” he wrote.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway confirmed in a May interview after Comey was fired that loyalty was an important part of the White House culture.
“The president expects people who are serving in his administration to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the administration,” she told Fox News.
But in the world of law enforcement and the judiciary, loyalty is a troubling concept, as prosecutors and judges are expected to pledge their loyalty only to the Constitution.