Rosenstein Coats McCabe
© Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, DNI Daniel Coats and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
Top FBI officials reportedly consulted with a senior lawyer if they could act on a suggestion by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to secretly wiretap President Donald Trump, apparently taking it seriously and not in jest.

The New York Times reported last month that in 2017 Rosenstein had quipped about secretly recording the president's communications and later using the tapes to oust Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows the cabinet to declare a president unfit for duty. The scoop was quickly shot down, as people involved in discussion assured that the remark was sarcastic and not an invitation for a palace coup. Speculation that Trump would retaliate against Rosenstein by firing him likewise never materialized.

The story made a surprise comeback in the US media on Tuesday, after some outlets - including The Hill, Fox News and the Washington Post - reported that the wiretapping suggestion may have been done in earnest. At least that was the impression of FBI's top legal counsel James Baker, who was approached about the suggestion by the bureau's then-acting director Andrew McCabe and 'Russiagate' investigation lawyer Lisa Page.

Baker spoke about the 2017 discussions to a closed congressional hearing last week. According to Baker, the proposal to record Trump was not "an official one" and was dismissed by senior FBI and DOJ officials "within a couple of days," the Post reported. Rosenstein was expected to be interviewed by the lawmakers on Thursday, but that hearing is still up in the air.

Rosenstein reportedly made the controversial remark in May 2017, just before appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. Both McCabe and Page were among the people present at the meeting. The Times bombshell was apparently based on memos McCabe compiled while in office, which were later turned over to Mueller and leaked to the media.

The Hill's John Solomon suggested that since the wiretapping discussion was made around the time Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the officials in the bureau may have sought retribution against the president.

McCabe was fired in March this year for lack of candor, while Page resigned from the FBI after an internal investigation unearthed thousands of text messages between her and agent Peter Strzok, evidence of both their extramarital affair and partisanship against Trump.

The 25th Amendment was passed after the assassination of President John Kennedy and was meant to establish the rules for replacing a president or a vice president in an emergency, avoiding situations like the incapacitation of President James Garfield, who continued to hold his office for over two months while dying from a wound received from an assassin's bullet in 1881.

The possibility of using the amendment to unseat a healthy but undesired leader has been explored in US television programs, most recently in the season 7 of the spy drama Homeland. In the series, President Elizabeth Keane graciously resigns in favor of her VP to preserve American unity.