Impeaching Rosenstein? Some Republicans are talking about it

Impeaching Rosenstein? Some Republicans are talking about it
© Getty Images

GOP leaders have been silent on the calls from key House conservatives to censure or impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinRepublicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe US law is not on the side of Mueller's appointment as special counsel Republican wants to know why Rosenstein delayed release of FBI agent texts MORE — a move that would fire up the GOP base, but could also turn off moderate and independent voters in the midterm elections.

In recent weeks, leading conservatives have been aggressively ramping up their threats to impeach or hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress over a stalled request for documents — and the release of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract Senate Intel requests more testimony from Comey, McCabe The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix MORE’s memos seems unlikely to quiet them.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Rosenstein has a number of other issues, and that’s really getting documents to Congress that we’ve asked for,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure Meadows gets heated with Ryan on House floor Ryan: House voting Thursday on bill to keep families together MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday. “He needs to get serious about that.”

Meadows said he doesn’t think special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s job is in jeopardy, but “Rod Rosenstein is a little bit more ambiguous, in terms of his future with this administration.”

The effort to take aim at Justice Department (DOJ) officials could put Republican leaders in a tough spot, especially as they seek to protect vulnerable House members in the midterms.

Democrats are painting the conservative attacks on Rosenstein as an effort to lay the groundwork for President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily immigration detention centers could be at capacity within days: report Trump likely to meet with Putin in July: report DOJ requests military lawyers to help prosecute immigration crimes: report MORE to fire top Justice officials or Mueller.

“We now live in a time when the administration appears to be actively coordinating with members of the majority to stymie Congressional and DOJ investigations,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “We need to do everything in our power to protect the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice.”

 
Ryan, who is retiring, has said in the past that Mueller’s job is not in jeopardy and that the special counsel should be allowed to carry out its mission.

“I think they should be allowed to do their jobs,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference last week, referring to Mueller and Rosenstein.

On the one hand, Congress taking aim at Rosenstein would throw some red meat to the conservative base and please critics of the department’s Russia investigation. That could help close an expected enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats in the midterm elections.

But moderate and vulnerable GOP lawmakers may be wary to take any action that could be construed as an attempt to undermine the special counsel.

Leaders of the far-right House Freedom Caucus have been blanketing the cable airwaves in recent weeks with their attacks on the Justice Department and FBI, which they claim have been biased and politically motivated in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

They are infuriated that the Justice Department has slow-walked a request from Congress to produce a tranche of documents that touch on a range of issues, including the investigation surrounding former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump mocks 'elites' at campaign rally Trump backs down in rare reversal Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral MORE’s private email server and how the department has used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) slapped a subpoena on the Justice Department to force officials to turn over 1.2 million pages of documents by April 5.

But the department failed to comply with that deadline, and has so far only turned over a few thousand documents, some of which have been heavily redacted.

The department has since taken steps to help speed up its response to the congressional request, including appointing a United States attorney to help produce more documents.

Meadows and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRepublicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe Republican wants to know why Rosenstein delayed release of FBI agent texts Live coverage: Justice IG testifies before House on report criticizing FBI MORE (R-Ohio) reportedly met with Rosenstein on Monday, a few days before the Justice Department ended up releasing memos written by Comey, which Trump and his GOP allies were also seeking.

If the DOJ doesn’t move more quickly or continues to hand over heavily redacted documents, Rosenstein could face impeachment proceedings or attempts to hold him in contempt of Congress, Meadows and others warn.

“Rod Rosenstein’s real problem right now is more with Congress than the president,” said Meadows, who ticked off a list of grievances. “He needs to get serious about responding to congressional requests in days, not in weeks or months.”

“We will have a plan to hold in contempt and impeach,” Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse GOP headed for showdown with DOJ over key documents Schiff: ‘Deeply disturbing’ that FBI gave Nunes confidential info on Clinton's emails Gowdy: House will use 'full arsenal' of constitutional weapons to get DOJ, FBI compliance on subpoenas MORE (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News last week.

Either motion would require the support of GOP leaders, who decide what comes to the House floor.

It’s unclear, however, whether there’s much appetite in the wider GOP conference for targeting Justice officials — especially as speculation swirls about whether Trump will shake up DOJ leadership after the FBI’s raid on his personal lawyer earlier this month, which Rosenstein reportedly signed off on.

Some Republicans fear that the firing of Mueller, Rosenstein or Attorney General Jeff Sessions would cause chaos in Washington, spark a constitutional crisis and dim Republican hopes of holding their congressional majorities.

Over half of Republicans, or 55 percent, believe that Trump should not fire Mueller, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month. Meanwhile, 69 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats feel the same way.

In a sign that some Republicans may be worried how the issue will play out in November, two of the GOP’s most vulnerable members — Reps. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGOP super PAC targets House districts with new M ad buys GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now House Republicans wrestle over immigration deal MORE (N.J.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickElection Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix ‘He’s dangerous’ — House race in Pa. heats up as candidates aim to define each other MORE (Pa.) — have both signed on to House legislation designed to protect the special counsel.

“I am a supporter of the Mueller investigation ... It's important that the Mueller [probe] continue,” Lance told CNN’s Don Lemon this week. “I hold town hall meetings regularly, and my constituents want to get to the bottom of how the Russians were involved in tampering with our elective process.”

But, Lance added, Rosenstein’s ouster wouldn’t necessarily spell doom for the special counsel.

“The Mueller investigation would continue, and if someone were to be nominated to be deputy attorney general, that position requires Senate confirmation,” he said.