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 (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE's investigation following Monday’s uproar over the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinJake Tapper fact-checks poster Trump admin created describing Mueller investigation Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller MORE.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval 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 TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit 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 CummingsNancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now House Democrats, Trump lawyers ask appeals court to expedite subpoena case Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech 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 SessionsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Amash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' 'Persuadable' voters are key to the 2020 election — and the non-screaming news industry 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 ComeyFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump orders intel agencies to cooperate with Barr probe into 'spying' on 2016 campaign Attorney General Barr puts former intel bosses on notice 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 JordanConservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties GOP lawmakers lay out border security proposals for DHS 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 MeadowsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Conservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill 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 HolderEric Holder: 'There are grounds for impeachment' in Mueller report Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm Dems struggle to make Trump bend on probes 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 HarrisSan Francisco police chief apologizes for raid on journalist's home Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk 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 SchiffFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Trump appeals order siding with House Democrats bank subpoenas 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 SwalwellHouse Intelligence enjoys breakthrough with Justice Department Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers 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.