GOP targets likely Dem committee chairmen in midterm push
GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future
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 Mueller'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 Collins (R-Maine) told CNN.
"I like Rosenstein personally," added Sen. Orrin Hatch (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 Comey 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 Meadows (R-N.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Matt Gaetz (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 Goodlatte (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 Graham (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."