Opinion writer

The Post reports on the resolution introduced by 11 members of the House Freedom Caucus to impeach — yes, impeach — Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein:

The effort, led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), … sets up a showdown with House Republican leaders, who have distanced themselves from calls to remove Rosenstein from office. But Meadows and Jordan stopped short of forcing an immediate vote on the measure, sparing Republican lawmakers for now from a potential dilemma.  …

House Republicans have been ramping up their attacks on the deputy attorney general in recent weeks, accusing him of withholding documents and being insufficiently transparent in his handling of the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Justice Department officials have said they have provided the vast majority of information sought in subpoenas from two key House committees — and are nearly done with providing all the outstanding information requested in those subpoenas. Democrats have said that House Republicans’ clashes with Rosenstein are little more than a pretext to weaken Mueller’s efforts.

Mind you, there has been no finding that Rosenstein is in contempt of Congress or that he has broken any regulation or law. The impeachment resolution is pure piffle. (“A Justice Department official said Wednesday that only one committee request has been formally denied — a demand to see the unredacted Justice Department memo detailing which Trump associates are under investigation by Mueller and for which potential crimes. Officials declined that request because, they said, providing it could compromise ongoing investigations.”) Not even House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) thinks that the resolution has merit.

Indeed, former Justice Department officials and legal scholars have fretted that Rosenstein has been too accommodating to congressional requests. “The ironic thing about this push is that Rosenstein has done far more to satisfy what are really inappropriate requests from House Republicans than DOJ has ever done before,” former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller says. “It’s been clear from the beginning that Meadows and company weren’t interested in anything other than shutting down the Mueller investigation, and this ridiculous move makes it even more obvious.”

The damage here is being done not by Rosenstein, but by irresponsible, hyper-partisan congressmen. Former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen and Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21, recently wrote about the impeachment gambit:

Key House Republicans are abusing their offices and the public trust to blindly provide protection for [President] Trump. They are doing so instead of working to get to the bottom of the worst foreign attack on American elections in our history.

They need to be called on their scandalous efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation and ignore Russia’s cyber invasion of our democracy. A bipartisan outcry greeted Trump’s Helsinki betrayals. We should be hearing protests at least as loud and bipartisan in response to this parallel — and equally unmerited — attack on American law enforcement right here at home.

It is not Rosenstein who should be removed from office, but rather, the House Republican members who are obstructing an ongoing investigation of the Republican president and his cronies. While their actions are protected (most likely) under the” speech or debate” clause (preventing criminal prosecution or civil suit for actions that would otherwise be actionable), their pattern of conduct (cooking up a misleading memo about the FISA warrant application for Carter Page’s surveillance, exposing a confidential intelligence source, smearing the FBI) amounts to multiple blatant attempts to thwart an entirely legitimate investigation. If anyone in the White House is conspiring with them to interfere with the investigation, such individuals could be investigated for obstruction of justice.

“This is a cynical, corrupt effort to kneecap the legitimate investigation of Jordan’s and Meadows’s ally, the president,” Eisen tells me. “Their gambit is entirely divorced from the reality of Rosenstein‘s compliance with congressional requests , which has been quite good on his part. For that reason, it is highly likely to fail.” He observes that a similar effort with “the same actors previously tried the same ploy with another set of baseless allegations, against IRS Commissioner [John] Koskinen. They were defeated by an overwhelming bipartisan vote and the same thing will likely happen here.” He concludes, “Unfortunately, real harm will be done to an outstanding public servant and to law enforcement itself in the process. Jordan and Meadows surely know that and are proceeding anyhow to protect the president. What a betrayal of their oaths—and their country.”

Ranking Democrats Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) of the House Judiciary Committee, Elijah Cummings (Md.) of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Adam Schiff (Calif.) of the Intelligence Committee issued a statement Wednesday night blasting the Republicans’ stunt. “This resolution to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is a direct attack on the Special Counsel’s investigation—full stop,” they said. “It is a panicked and dangerous attempt to undermine an ongoing criminal investigation in an effort to protect President Trump as the walls are closing in around him and his associates.” They added: “It is fortunate that this resolution has no chance of actually forcing the removal of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who stands as one of the few restraints against the overreaches of the President and his allies in Congress. To date, Special Counsel Mueller has obtained 30 indictments and five guilty pleas against a group that includes four Trump campaign officials and 26 Russian nationals.”

Ironically, Republicans have been arguing that if Democrats ever get control of Congress, they will tie the place up with bogus impeachment hearings and create gridlock. No, Republicans are doing that all on their own. “It’s a PR stunt that nobody who knows anything about impeachment could take seriously,” says constitutional scholar Larry Tribe. “But it will do great harm anyway by contributing to the degradation of the impeachment power, making it harder to use when it is truly needed to rein in a would be-dictator.” Referencing his book with Joshua Matz, “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment,” Tribe tells me this is why he and Matz argue that “casual and frequent impeachment talk can damage the already frayed fabric of our dangerously polarized polity.”

While House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) tried to discourage this move, it is he who has indulged the GOP antics — especially the dishonest and grossly inappropriate conduct of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). It’s he who has refused to support a legitimate independent commission to review the Russia matter, opposed a joint select committee, made light of the president’s attacks on the rule of law and refused to consider legislation protecting Rosenstein and Mueller.

UPDATE: In case it wasn’t clear that this is all about Jordan’s political aspirations, he indicated today that he is running for speaker. Meanwhile, in response to reporters’ questions, Ryan reiterated he did not think Rosenstein’s conduct was impeachable.