GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future

GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are warning President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE not to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Rosenstein10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Why the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to Trump McCabe sues FBI, DOJ, blames Trump for his firing MORE; House conservatives are threatening to impeach him.

The split-screen view of the Rosenstein saga reflects dueling priorities of Senate and House Republicans heading into the November midterm elections.

House conservatives are vowing to force a vote to impeach Rosenstein unless he testifies this week before the Judiciary Committee. An impeachment vote would serve up red meat for the conservative base and help turn out GOP voters right before the election, while casting doubt on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE’s Russia investigation.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, who have a razor-thin 51-49 majority, are urging Trump to approach the issue cautiously, concerned that such an act would create an unwanted headache for the GOP less than six weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

"If there's any attempt to fire or force out Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, that would be a huge red line and very problematic,” moderate Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE (R-Maine) told CNN.

“I like Rosenstein personally,” added Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Trump fires Rosenstein, “it would cause a furor that I don't think we need right now."

It’s a pivotal week for Rosenstein as he prepares to meet with Trump at the White House on Thursday to find out if he still has a job at the Department of Justice (DOJ). That meeting comes after a chaotic Monday when a flurry of erroneous news reports emerged saying Rosenstein had either resigned or been sacked.

Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s Russia probe, was thrust back into the spotlight last week when The New York Times reported that he had suggested secretly recording Trump after the president fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE in May 2017. The Times said Rosenstein also discussed invoking the 25th Amendment, which lays out a way to remove a president who’s deemed unfit to serve.

Rosenstein has denied the Times report. But the article provided more ammunition for House conservatives like Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsBen Shapiro: No prominent GOP figure ever questioned Obama's legitimacy Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Gun store billboard going after the 'Squad' being removed following backlash MORE (R-N.C.), Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (R-Ohio) and Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzCapitol Police advised Gaetz against holding open events I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Gaetz cleared by Florida Bar after Cohen tweet probe MORE (R-Fla.), who in July introduced articles of impeachment against Rosenstein.

Those close Trump allies say Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign has gone on too long. They’ve also complained that Rosenstein has failed to hand over documents to House lawmakers related to the Russia probe.

Their July impeachment push went nowhere, but if they file it as a “privileged” resolution, they could force a floor vote on whether to impeach Rosenstein, requiring every House member to take a recorded position on the controversial issue.

In an interview this week with Fox News, Meadows issued a not-so-veiled threat to Rosenstein: Testify before Congress this week or you could face impeachment.

“We are pushing very hard to make sure that he comes in under oath to Congress and let the American people judge for themselves,” said Meadows, chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. “I can tell you that if he does not, there are a number of us that are standing by really with impeachment documents that say we cannot have this kind of activity continue at DOJ.”

Meadows, Jordan and other Trump allies have been urging House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.) to invite Rosenstein to testify before his panel this week, before the House adjourns Friday for what could be the final legislative day before the November election.

But so far, no hearing with Rosenstein has been scheduled. And Rosenstein has not received a formal invitation to appear before the committee.

“We have received no invite — formally or informally,” said DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Meadows extended an invitation on Friday to Rosenstein’s staff, who offered to pass along the message, GOP sources said. But Meadows is not a member of the Judiciary panel, which has oversight of the Justice Department.

Asked Tuesday if Trump should fire Rosenstein when they meet on Thursday, Meadows told The Hill that he’d like to see the deputy attorney general testify first before his possible ouster.

“Any termination should only be considered after [Rosenstein] has had a chance to provide more context of his comments” reported in The New York Times story, Meadows said. “The president’s decision to maintain Mr. Rosenstein’s status at DOJ is one that he will make without input from Congress.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death MORE (R-S.C.), a onetime Trump 2016 rival who’s since become a close ally, urged the president not to make any rash decisions with Rosenstein.

“The only reason he should be fired is if he was involved in an effort to undermine the president. He says he wasn’t. I’ll take him at his word,” Graham said.

But if Trump axes Rosenstein, the senator added, “the burden will be on the president and the White House to assure the country that Mueller can do his investigation.”