Follow Thursday’s updates here: House Speaker Ryan says he opposes conservative effort to impeach Rod Rosenstein
Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, in a move that marks a dramatic escalation in the battle over the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The effort, led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), also 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.
“We’re tired of the Justice Department giving us the finger and not giving us the information we’re entitled to to do our constitutional duty,” Jordan said Wednesday night in a Fox News Channel appearance alongside Meadows. “More importantly, the American people are sick of it. That’s why we filed the resolution.”
Meadows and Jordan are leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a bloc whose members have been among the most persistent critics of Rosenstein. All 11 lawmakers who filed the resolution are members.
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.
In an appearance on Fox Business Network on Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said that while the next step remains uncertain as the House leaves town for its summer recess at the end of this week, “it was very important for those of us who believe that norms have been violated to step out and say Rod Rosenstein needs to be impeached.”
“The mountain of evidence against Rod Rosenstein is very compelling when you look at the extent to which documents and witnesses have been withheld,” said Gaetz, one of the lawmakers who introduced the resolution.
In a joint statement Wednesday, the top Democrats on three House committees called the resolution a “direct attack” on the Mueller probe and warned President Trump not to use it as a pretext to fire Rosenstein or Mueller.
“Any attempt to do so will be viewed by Congress and the American people as further proof of an effort to obstruct justice with severe consequences for Trump and his presidency,” said Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).
Meadows and Jordan filed the resolution a little more than an hour after leaving a meeting with top Justice Department officials, including FBI General Counsel Dana Boente and Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. Exiting the meeting, Meadows said there was “still great frustration” with the pace at which subpoenaed documents had been produced to Congress.
But that was far from a unanimous opinion for the lawmakers who participated. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said he believed that the Justice Department officials were making progress toward complying with the subpoena and that impeaching Rosenstein would be a bad idea.
“I’m not a big fan of drama,” Gowdy said. “Impeachment is a punishment; it’s not a remedy. If you’re looking for documents, then you want compliance, and you want whatever moves you toward compliance.”
Meadows said in the Fox News interview that the conservatives could move “as soon as tomorrow” to force a vote and said discussions were underway about the timing. The House is set to leave Washington on Thursday for a five-week summer recess. “I think the American people are tired of talk,” he said. “They want action, and it’s up to Rod Rosenstein.”
House Republican aides said that if a member tried to force a vote on the measure, leaders probably would move to send it to the House Judiciary Committee for further review, effectively bottling it up indefinitely. But that could still be an uncomfortable vote for many Republicans who are under pressure from conservative groups — and the voters who follow them — to unseat the man who oversees the investigation Trump routinely denigrates as a “witch hunt.”
Among those who would be under pressure are the GOP leaders looking to move up the ladder following House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s retirement, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who have been wooing conservatives in anticipation of a succession battle.
For months, House Republicans have accused the Justice Department and FBI of stonewalling and foot-dragging in response to lawmakers’ demands for documents about the 2016 probe of Hillary Clinton, the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the election, and the sources and methods used in the Russia investigation.
But the impeachment resolution offers other complaints as well, including that Rosenstein oversaw redactions of information that was not law-enforcement sensitive, such as the $70,000 price tag of a conference table used by then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The conservatives have been drafting versions of the impeachment document since April. But they have held off as Justice Department and FBI officials sparred with the Republican leaders of three House committees over sharing investigative documents pertaining to politically sensitive probes pertaining to Trump and Clinton.
The issue came to a head this month after a heated public hearing where Republicans lambasted FBI official Peter Strzok and a renewed tussle over documents. Last week, Meadows and Jordan asked Horowitz to investigate whether Rosenstein had threatened members of the House Intelligence Committee staff during a January meeting. Rosenstein denied making such threats in a June congressional hearing where, in one exchange, he seemed to ridicule Jordan.
After Jordan asked whether he had threatened to “subpoena their calls and emails,” Rosenstein said, “No, sir, and there’s no way to subpoena phone calls,” drawing laughs in the hearing room.
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.
One of the key documents requested, a largely unredacted copy of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant on former Trump adviser Carter Page, has been viewed by about 30 lawmakers. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has not viewed the document, but one of his staffers has, according to a Justice Department official.
A separate fight over details about a longtime FBI source who aided the Russia probe was resolved when officials briefed a small group of congressional leaders, the official said.
The Justice Department has set aside two rooms at its headquarters for other lawmakers and their staffers to review secret documents — one room for documents about the Russia probe, and another room for documents relating to the probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server, the official said.
At one point, FBI officials had to write new software code to search their systems for documents sought by the lawmakers, the official said.
Meadows’s move is reminiscent of when, in July 2015, he filed a resolution to unseat John A. Boehner as speaker of the House. Meadows did not immediately force a vote but threatened to do so over the ensuing months until Boehner announced his retirement in September.
Jordan and fellow conservative hard-liners also were behind a previous impeachment effort, against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in December 2016.
The accusations against Koskinen were much the same: “Stonewalling Congress, obstructing justice, and breaching the public trust,” Jordan said at the time.
But most Republicans did not agree. After Jordan forced a vote on impeachment, House leaders moved to bottle it up in committee on a 342-to-72 vote, with 166 Republicans joining all 176 Democrats voting. The House Judiciary Committee did not act on the measure, and Koskinen remained in office until the following November.