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Rosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ
Republicans on Sunday seized on reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last year proposed secretly recording President Trump, in order to renew calls for a special counsel investigation of alleged bias within the Department of Justice (DOJ).
"[Trump] shouldn't fire Rosenstein unless you believe Rosenstein's lying. He said he did not do the things alleged, but there's a bureaucratic coup against President Trump being discovered here," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Before the election, the people in question tried to taint the election, tip it in [Hillary] Clinton's favor; after the election they're trying to undermine the president," he charged.
Republican lawmakers and multiple Trump administration officials were asked on Sunday talk shows about a New York Times report Friday that said Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire during conversations with the president last spring. He also reportedly proposed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
Rosenstein has denied the report.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called the idea "absurd" and told ABC's "This Week" she was never part of such an effort.
"I've never heard of it, I don't think that's a reality at all among all the Cabinet members," she said.
But the Times report added further kindling to what has long been a fiery relationship between Trump and the Department of Justice. The president has in the past directly criticized Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The president's allies on Sunday refrained from calling for Rosenstein to be fired based on the report alone, but suggested it would be a fireable offense if true, and used the allegations as ammunition for further claims that the DOJ sought to undercut Trump.
Graham suggested that the report played into a larger narrative of DOJ bias against the president that involves former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, department official Bruce Ohr and former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
"I don't know what Rosenstein did but I know what McCabe, Ohr, Page and Strzok did," Graham said. "They tried to destroy this president."
"If Rosenstein's involved he should be fired, if he's not involved leave him alone, but he can't make that decision," he continued. "We need a special counsel to look at this, not [Michael] Horowitz, the [inspector general]. Rosenstein's doing the country a great disservice by not appointing a special counsel to look at all of this."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who had previously called for a second special counsel to investigate alleged FBI abuse of a surveillance program, also revived those calls on Sunday.
"I will repeat again what I have said for many months now, and that is that the attorney general of the United States needs to appoint a special counsel to look into all of this," Goodlatte said on Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures."
Goodlatte is among the GOP lawmakers at the forefront of a push to declassify documents related to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump last week ordered the DOJ to declassify a number of documents related to the investigation, but later delayed their release after he said "key allies" raised concerns.
Goodlatte vowed Sunday to subpoena the DOJ over the documents if they were not released on Monday or Tuesday. The materials, he said, would include memos from McCabe that are said to have laid out the claims that Rosenstein proposed recording Trump.
"I think it is very, very important that the American people get access to the information that underlies all this," Goodlatte said.
Rosenstein denied the claims laid out in the Times report, which cited unnamed sources, calling it "inaccurate and factually incorrect." He added that "there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment" based on his dealings with Trump.
The Washington Post later also reported that Rosenstein suggested surreptitiously recording the president. However, the Post cited an unnamed official who attended the meeting and claimed the remark was made in jest and came in response to McCabe's suggestion that the DOJ probe Trump after he fired ex-FBI Director James Comey.
"It's not a very funny joke," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
Gowdy, who has also previously called for a second special counsel to look into alleged surveillance abuses, cautioned that Rosenstein deserves an opportunity to share his version of events.
"Find out who else, if anyone, was in the room and then give Rod a chance to explain whether or not it's true and the context in which it was said," he said. "But one thing that's clear whether you're Republican or Democrat president, you have a right to a deputy attorney general that doesn't think you're incompetent and doesn't feel the need to audio tape conversations with you."
Trump Cabinet officials largely avoided weighing in on Rosenstein specifically, but addressed the broader issue of whether administration officials were undermining the president.
"I've been pretty clear since my beginning of service here in this administration, if you can't be on the team, if you're not supporting this mission, then maybe you've just got to find something else to do," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on "Fox News Sunday."
Haley downplayed the Mueller investigation and "gossip of the day" as distractions from the administration's successes.
"I'm there almost every other week and I can tell you never has anyone talked about the 25th Amendment, never has anyone even questioned the president's mental stability or anything," Haley said on "This Week."