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 RosensteinVote Democrat in midterms to rein in Trump, preserve justice Trump lawyer: NBC interview with Comey firing comments was edited Trump attack on Sessions may point to his departure 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 ComeyFBI memos detail ‘partisan axes,’ secret conflicts behind the Russia election meddling assessment New grounds for impeachment? House Dem says Trump deserves it for making society worse Sessions gets unexpected support - from a Democrat who wants to impeach Trump 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 MeadowsRepublicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel 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 TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada 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 rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada 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 JordanHillicon Valley: Trump cyber strategy lets US go on offense | AT&T urges court to let Time Warner merger stand | Conservatives want wife of DOJ official to testify | Facebook, nonprofits team up to fight fake news | DC camera hacker pleads guilty FBI memos detail ‘partisan axes,’ secret conflicts behind the Russia election meddling assessment Republicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr 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 NunesRussia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe 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 LanceMonmouth poll: Incumbent GOP candidate trails Dem challenger in New Jersey House race Blue-state Republicans say they will vote against 'tax cuts 2.0' if it extends SALT cap House panels set up to probe indicted GOP Reps. Collins, Hunter MORE (N.J.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests Congress prepares to punt biggest political battles until after midterms Preventing violence isn’t partisan: Time to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act 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.