Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors

Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors
© Getty

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 RosensteinGraham vows to push Trump’s AG pick through Judiciary Committee House GOP set to grill Comey McCabe, Rosenstein opened obstruction probe after Trump fired Comey, before Mueller was hired: report MORE.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection hacking will come to a ‘breaking point,’ says Dem strategist Webb: GOP must play prevent defense The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — George H.W. Bush lies in state | NRCC suffers major hack | Crunch-time for Congress MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Sunday shows preview: Trade talks, Cohen sentencing memo take center stage Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform 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 TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony 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 CummingsBlack Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits Cummings: Kemp should testify about voter suppression allegations Dems say Whitaker will appear before House panel in January 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 SessionsJohn Kelly to leave White House at year's end Five things to know about William Barr, Trump’s pick for Justice Department Trump says AG pick deserves bipartisan support 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 ComeyComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony READ: Transcript of Comey's interview before House lawmakers Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant 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 JordanComey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant Republicans missed best shot on keeping promise to cut spending Three Republicans battle to succeed Meadows at House Freedom Caucus 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 MeadowsComey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant GOP, Comey have tense day — with promise of a second date Meadows says 'too early to tell' if special House election should be held in North Carolina 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 on sharing photo of Rosenstein behind bars: 'He should have never picked a special counsel' If the GOP wants to win, it needs to champion the middle class Trump retweets Pence parody account attacking Clinton 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 HarrisWarren fell for ‘Trump trap’ with DNA test, says progressive Swalwell: Open to Swalwell-Biden or Biden-Swalwell ticket Boston Globe pans Warren as ‘divisive figure’ ahead of potential 2020 run 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 SchiffSunday shows preview: Trade talks, Cohen sentencing memo take center stage Hillicon Valley: Huawei executive facing possible US fraud charges | Dem blames White House for failure of election security bill | FCC investigating wireless carriers over coverage data | Assange rejects deal to leave embassy Dem lawmaker: Trump Jr. lied to Congress on two occasions 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: Open to Swalwell-Biden or Biden-Swalwell ticket Cher pitches Biden-Harris or Biden-Swalwell for 2020 Swalwell: 'Circumstantial evidence' Michael Cohen told more lies to committee 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.