Conflicting reports emerged Monday about whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had resigned from his post or was on the cusp of being fired. While it's still not entirely clear which is the truth, there's a significant difference between the two.
As Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake explained on Twitter, President Trump has the legal authority to nominate a replacement for Rosenstein if Rosenstein resigns — but his ability to hand-pick a successor is less clear if he fires Rosenstein. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act gives the president the ability to temporarily replace an official if the person in office "dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office," per Politico. Legal experts note that the case of a firing is conspicuously absent from the law.
As Politico noted earlier this year, a similar situation arose when former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin left the administration. Shulkin himself said he was fired, creating a bit of a stir over whether Trump legitimately had the authority to nominate Robert Wilkie as acting secretary as he did, CNN reported at the time.
Several outlets, including CNN, are reporting that Rosenstein has not resigned and is instead heading to the White House expecting to be fired. Per Justice Department hierarchy, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco would be next in line to assume Rosenstein's role— and would take over Rosenstein's crucial responsibility of overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.