Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors

Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors
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Democrats are urging Congress to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation following Monday’s uproar over the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinConservative rep slams Rosenstein's 'conflicts of interest' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week MORE.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats slide in battle for Senate McConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care MORE (R-Ky.) have been opposed to a bill to protect Mueller’s probe into Russia's election interference, but are waiting to see what happens Thursday when President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE and Rosenstein will hold a high-stakes meeting at the White House.

Democrats believe that Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official and the man who oversees the Russia probe, is the only person preventing Trump from firing Mueller and halting the investigation. Amid new reports that Rosenstein himself may resign or be fired soon, Democrats are comparing the situation to President Nixon’s purge of top Department of Justice (DOJ) officials during the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to his resignation.

“It’s very upsetting,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said during an appearance on CNN. “This is the next step in a slowly evolving, slow-motion 'Saturday Night Massacre' in which the president is getting rid of all the people who were involved in initiating or carrying out the investigation of obstruction of justice by him.”

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue On The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack MORE (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called for emergency hearings if Rosenstein leaves his post — “regardless of how it happens.”

“Mr. Rosenstein’s removal would plunge our nation into uncharted territory and pose a serious and profound threat to the continued work of the Special Counsel,” Cummings said Monday in a statement.

Speculation about Rosenstein’s future has swirled around Washington for many months, as Trump’s allies in the White House and Congress have attacked the DOJ deputy director for what they see as an overly aggressive approach to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein has become a leading face of the probe since early last year, when Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBeto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure MORE recused himself from the investigation — a move that infuriated Trump and fueled questions about Sessions’s own future atop the DOJ.

In July, a group of conservative House Republicans introduced a resolution to impeach Rosenstein, charging him with withholding documents pertinent to Congress’s oversight of the Russia probe.

Scrutiny of Rosenstein escalated further on Friday, when reports emerged that Rosenstein had been so unnerved by Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFormer FBI lawyer speaks with House lawmakers on Rosenstein, 2016 Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure McGahn departs as White House counsel MORE last year that he floated the idea of secretly recording his conversations with Trump.

First reported by reported by The New York Times, the reports also revealed that Rosenstein had discussed a plan to oust Trump by invoking the 25th Amendment, which outlines procedures for removing a president deemed unfit to serve in office. Rosenstein vehemently disputed the account, calling it “factually incorrect.”

The attacks on Rosenstein from Capitol Hill have sparked a host of Democratic proposals to protect the Mueller investigation from any efforts to shut it down prematurely. McConnell and Ryan, while supporting the probe, have both rejected such legislation, arguing there’s simply no evidence that Mueller is threatened, thereby precluding the need for congressional intervention.

"I haven't seen a clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep him from being removed because I don't think that's going to happen," McConnell told reporters back in April.

McConnell, Ryan and other GOP leaders offered no new statements Monday about Democrats’ demands to pass the protect-Mueller legislation. But GOP lawmakers and aides they did not see any scenario where McConnell and Ryan would bring such a bill to the floor.

“Zero chance,” one GOP congressman told The Hill. “Many Republicans believe that after two years of investigation, it is past time to finish the Mueller probe, not protect it.”

On Monday, conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanNellie Ohr exercises spousal privilege in meeting with House panels Meadows calls on Rosenstein to resign 'immediately' Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ohio), who is running for Speaker, called for Rosenstein to appear before the Judiciary Committee and discuss his alleged efforts to undermine the president.

“You can’t have the head of the Justice Department (even if it’s sarcasm) talking to subordinates about recording the Commander in Chief,” Jordan said. “He needs to answer our questions.”

Jordan’s close ally, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsConservative rep slams Rosenstein's 'conflicts of interest' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate MORE (R-N.C.), likened the current DOJ leadership team to DOJ leaders under former President Obama.

“The total lack of transparency and accountability among senior FBI and DOJ officials has devolved into a constant wheel of behind-the-scenes gamesmanship, with anonymous leaks left and right, each seeking to create their own narrative and save face with the public,” Meadows said in a statement.

“Under Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has had just as much of a transparency problem as it did even under Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderTrump rebukes Holder, Clinton with 'jobs not mobs' refrain Eric Trump calls out Holder on kicking comments: 'Who says this?' Two Minnesota Republicans report attacks MORE and Loretta Lynch — the bar for which is extremely low. This is disastrous, and it needs to end now. It does not serve the President well, and far more importantly, does not serve the American people well.”

Amid the latest flare-up with Rosenstein, however, Democrats are doubling down, putting more pressure on Republican leaders to step in to protect the DOJ from potential White House interference.

“The Senate must pass legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller TODAY,” tweeted Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Kamala Harris rallies voters in South Carolina MORE (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member who’s been mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate. “Republican leaders must allow it to be voted on. We can no longer afford to wait. This is a matter of preserving the rule of law.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step' Schiff: If Khashoggi was fighting in consulate he was fighting 'for his life' Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack MORE (Calif.), a senior Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, suggested that Trump firing Rosenstein would provide further evidence of the president obstructing justice.

“Under no circumstances should Rod Rosenstein resign. This would place the Mueller investigation in even greater jeopardy,” Schiff tweeted. “Rosenstein should continue to do his job, protect the independence of the DOJ, and if the President intends to obstruct justice, force Trump to fire him.”

Added another key member of the Intelligence panel, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellSwalwell blasts Trump for holding rally during Hurricane Michael: ‘NOPE NOPE NOPE’ Dem lawmaker mocks conservative activist as a ‘mansplainer’ after criticism of Taylor Swift Dem rep mocks Trump’s attack on SNL MORE (D-Calif.), “Firing or pushing out #Rosenstein is the same as doing it to Mueller. Make this move @realDonaldTrump, and you will see Americans step up, speak up, and rise up.

"We’re not taking this quietly," he continued. "You are not above the law.”

Melanie Zanona contributed.