Rosenstein knocks Republicans who want to impeach him: ‘They can’t even resist leaking their own drafts’
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Tuesday appeared to shrug off the news that House Republicans have drafted articles of impeachment against him, the latest sign of escalating efforts among conservatives to oust the top Justice Department official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“They can’t even resist leaking their own drafts,” Rosenstein quipped during a moderated discussion at the Newseum to commemorate Law Day.
Conservative members led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a close ally to President Trump, drafted eight articles of impeachment against Rosenstein on Monday, according to a copy of the draft obtained by The Hill.
The draft document did not include any signatures, but it laid out a series of allegations against Rosenstein, such as violating federal law by refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena over Congress’s efforts to obtain documents about FBI surveillance during the election and intentionally stalling document production for congressional investigations into possible government misconduct.
Rosenstein said the standards the Department of Justice (DOJ) follows for making charges against someone are far different than how the drafters approached making allegations in this document — leaked and unsigned.
“The way we operate in the Department of Justice, if we are going to accuse someone of wrongdoing, we have to have admissible evidence, and credible witnesses, we need to be prepared to prove our case in court. And we have to fix our signature to the charging document, and that is something that not everybody appreciates,” Rosenstein told the audience.
“I just don’t have anything to say about documents like that that nobody has the courage to put their name on and they leak in that way,” he continued.
The top DOJ official emphasized that those serving at the agency take an oath to serve after the president appoints them, and they will not let threats like this stop them from doing their duty.
“There have been people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time, and I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted,” Rosenstein continued.
Rosenstein appeared to specifically address one charge in the draft document, that he failed to properly supervise surveillance applications. The charge alleges that he failed to “to demonstrate probable cause to believe that targets of surveillance were a foreign power or agents of a foreign power, that a significant purpose of the surveillance was to obtain foreign intelligence information, and that appropriate minimization procedures were in place.”
“There’s a lot of talk about FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application and many of the people I see talking about it seem not to recognize what it is. A FISA application is actually a warrant, just like a search warrant,” he said.
“In order to get a FISA search warrant, you need an affidavit signed by a career federal law enforcement officer who swears that the information in the affidavit is true and correct to the best of knowledge and belief. And that is the way we operate, and if that is wrong, sometimes there is, if you find there is anything incorrect in there, that person is going to face consequences,” he continued, noting that the DOJ has “people who are accountable.”
While the DOJ has been providing documents to the congressional committees, GOP lawmakers have repeatedly criticized Rosenstein for slowly turning over documents that Republicans say are key to carrying out congressional investigations into FBI and DOJ decision-making during the 2016 presidential election.
The seventh and eighth articles of impeachment in the draft document charge Rosenstein of “knowingly and intentionally prevented the production of all documents and information” related to potential abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the federal government’s initial investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign’s and Russia.
Asked about the DOJ’s responsibility to protect an ongoing investigation while also facing pressure from Congress for that information, Rosenstein said the agency tries to give as much requested information as they can.
“Funny you should ask that question,” he said, receiving laughs from the audience. “We, in the Department [of Justice] and the Executive Branch, strongly support congressional oversight. Oversight is very important and it is one of our obligations to comply to the extent that we can.”
“There is actually not a constitutional basis for oversight — that is something that has been viewed as sort of an implied power that developed over the years. There are conflicts between between the executive and legislative branch over oversight throughout history.”
Despite complaints about the speed of production, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) announced last week that they had reached a deal with the DOJ about producing records, although they would not provide any additional details about the deal despite repeated requests for comment on the matter.
When asked earlier this month if he is seeing a general improvement in cooperation with the DOJ, Gowdy replied, “definitely.”
There has also been no indication that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House GOP leaders will act on the measure, having largely remained silent amid calls for his removal by hard-line conservatives. A spokesperson for Ryan did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment about the draft document.
Rosenstein has increasingly become a popular target among hard-line conservatives over the last year.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last year from overseeing the federal probe into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Rosenstein, a Republican who was appointed by Trump, stepped into the role of the special counsel’s gatekeeper, overseeing Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The president and his allies have grown increasingly frustrated by the probe, blasting the investigation as a “witch hunt” and denying any collusion or coordination between his campaign and Russia.
Democrats have repeatedly warned that the president may seek to replace the top two Justice Department officials with lackeys, who can then either seek to fire Mueller or curb his ability to run the high-profile investigation.
On Tuesday, Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee blasted the move to draft articles of impeachment against Rosenstein.
“Republicans clearly have no idea what impeachment is, or how impeachment works. This is nonsense, meant only to interfere with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” a spokesman for the committee’s Democrats said in a statement to The Hill.
Updated: 4:26 p.m.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.