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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clearing Up A Misleading Headline

Q: Has Rod Rosenstein “cleared” President Donald Trump?

A: No. The investigation of Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and another into Russian meddling in the 2016 election are both ongoing.


President Donald Trump has not been “cleared” in the investigation of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. He hasn’t been cleared in the investigation of Russian meddling and collusion, either.

But, a story from RedStateWave.com has been circulating on Facebook with the headline: “BREAKING: ROSENSTEIN JUST CLEARED PRESIDENT TRUMP!

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 to lead the investigation into Russia’s campaign interference and whether Trump campaign officials were involved in those efforts.

So far, the special counsel’s office has not presented any evidence of collusion, but four people who worked on Donald Trump’s campaign have been indicted. All but one has pleaded guilty.

A Facebook page called Donald Trump For President,” which has more than four million followers, presented the misleading headline under the words: “Finally!” and “Took him long enough.” (The Facebook page is run by the same individual who owns RedStateWave.com and RedStateWatcher.com.)

But the story doesn’t support the sensational headline. It’s actually about the much more recent investigation of Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s personal lawyers whose home, office and hotel room were raided by the FBI on April 9. Most of the story is taken from a Fox News report that said Rosenstein told Trump he wasn’t a target of the Cohen investigation.

Several other major news organizations reported on the same meeting, including CBS News, Bloomberg, and Reuters – all relying on unnamed sources who said Rosenstein told Trump he was not a target of either the Cohen or Russia investigations.

But telling Trump he is not a “target” of the investigation is not the same as being “cleared.”

A “target” is someone who prosecutors see as a likely defendant in a case that would come out of an investigation, according to the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual. Investigations can also include “subjects,” who fall within the scope of the probe and can also be charged. A person’s status can change at any point during an ongoing investigation.

Although the misleading headline prompted hundreds of outraged responses on Facebook, some users of the social media site flagged it as potentially false. We can’t confirm what Rosenstein may have told the president in a private meeting, but even if Rosenstein told him he is not a target of the investigations, that doesn’t support the headline that Trump has been “cleared.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.



Department of Justice. Appointment of Special Counsel. 17 May 2017.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. Code of Federal Regulations (28 CFR Sec. 600.6). Accessed 25 Apr 2018.

Michael D. Cohen v. United States of America. Government’s opposition to motion for temporary restraining order. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 13 Apr 2018.

United States Department of Justice. U.S. Attorneys’ Manual. Office of the United States Attorneys. Accessed 26 Apr 2018.

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Friday, April 20, 2018