National Security

Rosenstein defiant as impeachment talk rises

Rod Rosenstein is offering a fierce defense of the Justice Department amid mounting Republican criticism, making an unusually public stand for the institution he has served for nearly three decades.

On Tuesday, the deputy attorney general rebuked the nascent conservative effort to impeach him, likely exacerbating tensions with conservatives in the House.

House Republicans are demanding access to classified documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including a heavily redacted memo that spells out the scope of the investigation.


“There is really nothing to comment on there, but just give me the documents. The bottom line is, he needs to be give me the documents,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said during an interview with The Hill on Wednesday when asked about his response to Rosenstein.

“I have one goal in mind, and that is not somebody’s job or the termination of somebody’s job, it is getting the documents and making sure we can do proper oversight,” he said, adding that there are “no current plans to introduce an impeachment resolution.”

Republican lawmakers led by Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus one of President Trump’s top allies in Congress, have drafted eight articles of impeachment against Rosenstein. The articles make a series of charges against Rosenstein and question his credibility, reputation and fitness to serve. 

Conservatives have called the impeachment articles a last resort.

Rosenstein dismissed the impeachment threat and went a step further by suggesting the Justice Department’s independence is being threatened.

“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 said during an appearance at the Newseum.

“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, after quipping earlier that the lawmakers “can’t even resist leaking their own drafts.” 

Rosenstein, a career Justice Department official, is widely respected in legal circles. He has been praised for his work leading the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland, a position to which he was appointed by President George W. Bush and served in for 12 years, spanning Republican and Democratic administrations.

Rosenstein’s years of service at the department came through in his public remarks, lawyers say. 

“With a guy like Rosenstein, you can’t underestimate the deep connection that many career — not all — but many career Justice Department officials have to the department,” said Steven Cash, a lawyer at Day Pitney. 

“It defines their self image as participating in ensuring the rule of law in a way you often don’t see in other departments — they are very, very proud of their association with the department, its traditions, history and independence.”

But Rosenstein has plenty of critics on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans accuse him of hindering legitimate oversight.

Republicans have repeatedly accused Rosenstein of being unnecessarily slow in providing the documents they say are necessary for carrying out several parallel congressional investigations into FBI decision-making. Some of them have suggested the Justice Department is biased against Trump and now seeking to hide the evidence.

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 possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The charges appear to have caught the attention of the president, who threatened to get involved on Wednesday morning.

“A Rigged System — They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal ‘justice?’ At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved,” Trump tweeted.

Since Trump appointed Rosenstein to serve as deputy attorney general, he has become a key player in the drama surrounding the Mueller investigation.

It was Rosenstein who authored the memo criticizing former FBI Director James Comey, which the White House ultimately used to justify his firing. Trump later indicated that he removed Comey in part because of the Russia investigation, which helped open him up to charges of obstruction of justice.  

Rosenstein has defended the memo on Comey, pointing to criticism from both parties about Comey’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server before the 2016 presidential election.

After Comey’s firing, it was Rosenstein who decided to appoint Mueller, a former FBI director who is widely respected for his prosecutorial skill and independence, as special counsel to handle the Russia probe.

Since then, Rosenstein has given Mueller a broad mandate to investigate any criminal activity uncovered by his work, angering the president and his allies.

In addition, Rosenstein reportedly signed off on the FBI’s raid of Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal attorney, fueling widespread speculation that the president might fire him.

Rosenstein has privately told allies that he is prepared for the possibility of being dismissed, according to NBC News, but his appearance Tuesday made clear he has no intention of caving to outside pressure.

Rosenstein took issue with allegations detailed in the impeachment draft, including the charge that he failed to properly supervise surveillance applications.

He described a process in which a career federal law enforcement officer swears on an affidavit that the information they presented in a FISA application is both “true and correct” to the best of his or her knowledge and belief. While mistakes do happen and there are consequences for those who erred, he said, the agency employs “people who are accountable.” 

It’s unclear yet whether an impeachment push will gain traction among rank-and-file Republicans; GOP leaders have remained silent on the matter. AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), indicated Wednesday that he sees no reason to fire Rosenstein, as he said earlier this year.

Some GOP lawmakers in recent weeks have also said they’ve seen improvement from the Justice Department in responding to documents requests.

“If the focus is Rod Rosenstein and whether he has done something or failed to do something that could remotely warrant impeachment, I think it’s just groundless,” said Jack Sharman, a former special counsel to Congress during the Whitewater investigations.

Still, Rosenstein’s remarks are sure to ramp up tensions between two sides.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said Rosenstein came off as “cagey” in his defense and raised questions about what he may be trying to hide.  

“Everyone knows that this is heating up and both sides are gearing up for a fight,” O’Connell told The Hill. 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Impeachment James Comey Justice Department Mark Meadows Paul Ryan Robert Mueller Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Rod Rosenstein Russia Investigation
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