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 TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE not to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay Rosenstein5 myths about William Barr William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO MORE (R-Maine) told CNN.

“I like Rosenstein personally,” added Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney 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 ComeyDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story 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 MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Trump vows to veto bills expanding abortion rights | Abortion foes march into divided Washington | Medicaid work requirements approved in Arizona Abortion foes march into divided Washington McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-N.C.), Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader Republicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify MORE (R-Ohio) and Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzMaduro starts new term in Venezuela facing US sanctions, lack of legitimacy abroad Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Native American lawmaker: Haven't heard back from GOP rep who called Warren 'Sacagawea' 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 GoodlatteHouse GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end Murkowski to reintroduce bill to help abused Native American women FBI hits GOP chairman over push to clear sensitive transcripts by Christmas Eve 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 GrahamDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report 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.”