For about 90 frantic minutes on Monday morning, it appeared that Everything Was Finally Happening At Once: Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate the president's alleged election-swinging and justice-obstructing efforts—and whose hypothetical replacement would be free to relieve Mueller of his powers at his or her discretion—was on his way out at the Department of Justice, plunging our teetering democracy into the long-awaited, full-blown constitutional crisis from which it is ill-equipped to recover.
This roller coaster began with a terse Axios report that Rosenstein had "verbally resigned to Chief of Staff John Kelly in anticipation of being fired by President Trump." Solicitor general Noel Francisco, unnamed officials said, was set to take over Rosenstein's supervision of the Mueller probe, setting the stage for its seemingly inevitable dissolution. At last, the White House was moving to choke out this independent law enforcement investigation using a bloodless, bureaucratic process. The Resistance was prepared to take to the streets.
Moments later, though, Rosenstein's camp began pushing back, insisting that he had no intention of quitting, and that if Trump wanted a new deputy attorney general, he'd have to fire the current one first. Suddenly, we were in the midst of a slowly-unfolding Monday Morning Massacre, with Rosenstein playing the parts of Elliott Richardson and Bill Ruckleshaus at the same time. Resistance Twitter added a few new items to its list of suggested protest sign slogans, and doubled the already-feverish pace of its efforts.
As the minutes ticked by and every cable news station began broadcasting a live feed of the wet patch of asphalt where they expected him to arrive at the White House, a third storyline began to emerge: Rosenstein is fine, actually! His presence at the White House was due not to his impending departure, voluntary or otherwise, but instead to a regularly-scheduled meeting of National Security Council principals. The New York Times, among many others, eventually settled on an ungainly and anticlimactic narrative in which Rosenstein had "considered" quitting, but didn't, but also plans to meet with Trump later this week to maybe consider quitting all over again. A DOJ spokesperson was able to confirm only that Rod Rosenstein still exists somewhere on this planet, and that anything more would constitute irresponsible speculation.
What the hell just happened?
Possibility 1: Rosenstein called Trump's bluff
After stewing for three days over the Times' revelation that Rosenstein (sarcastically?) suggested wearing a wire in order to organize a constitutional coup d'état, Trump decided that this brazen act of (alleged?) disloyalty merited his exit. Through Kelly, the president demanded Rosenstein's resignation and summoned him to the White House to deliver it in person—one final act of humiliation.
Alas, he had not counted on the pluck of our intrepid deputy attorney general, who told John Kelly to go kick rocks. This matters because under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, the president has more latitude in replacing an executive branch official who quits than he does in replacing one who is fired. Unwilling to potentially hamstring Trump's ability to install a lackey who would be empowered to disband Mueller's team in short order, Kelly glowered and harrumphed, but decided to punt on securing a formal resignation until the president returns to Washington on Thursday. Now, Rod Rosenstein has three whole day before he again risks having his keycard access revoked.
Possibility 2: For once, the "Trump is trying to distract us!" narrative is right
At Vanity Fair, Gabe Sherman reports that over the weekend, as Trump wrestled with the possibility of withdrawing Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, he also pondered the wisdom of doing something "really big" in order to "knock Kavanaugh out of the news, potentially saving his nomination and Republicans' chances for keeping the Senate." Today's circus, suggests Sherman, might be the implementation of this strategy.
Admittedly, "firing the person who supervises the person investigating your potentially criminal conduct" is the sort of thing that qualifies as "really big." Whether it constitutes a prudent decision—that it, whether it is bigger than "your diligent, ongoing efforts to put a man facing multiple accusations of sexual assault on the Supreme Court"—is a, uh, debatable proposition. But then again, Donald Trump cares only about surviving one news cycle at a time. He would rather create progressively more disastrous problems forever than confront even one of them head-on, which is not the sort of pattern that you should think about reaching its logical conclusion.
Possibility 3: Twitter is a bad site on which no one should rely for breaking news, ever
Note: This theory and the above theories are not mutually exclusive.