A group of conservative House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE, the top Department of Justice (DOJ) official overseeing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s Russia investigation.
The introduction of the resolution is the latest sign of escalating efforts among conservatives to oust the DOJ’s No. 2 official.
Conservative members led by Reps. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsMeadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - White House tackles how to vaccinate children ages 5+ Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHouse GOP leaders urge 'no' vote on Bannon contempt Cheney presses Republicans to back Bannon contempt vote GOP's embrace of Trump's false claims creates new perils MORE (R-Ohio), along with nine co-sponsors, introduced the five articles shortly after a meeting with DOJ officials concerning document production.
"For 9 months we’ve warned them consequences were coming, and for 9 months we’ve heard the same excuses backed up by the same unacceptable conduct," Meadows, the head of the House Freedom Caucus and ally of President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE, said in a statement. "Time is up and the consequences are here. It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency."
“The DOJ is keeping information from Congress. Enough is enough. It’s time to hold Mr. Rosenstein accountable for blocking Congress’s constitutional oversight role,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another GOP lawmaker who has been fiercely critical of the DOJ, said in a statement.
The articles include a series of allegations against Rosenstein.
They charge that Rosenstein has a conflict of interest in Mueller's probe, stating that he is a “witness” who could be called to testify in the ongoing investigation into potential surveillance abuse since he signed off on an FBI surveillance renewal application to wiretap Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign.
“As such, his conduct in authorizing the FISA surveillance at issue in the joint congressional investigation makes him a fact witness central to the ongoing investigation of potential FISA abuse,” read the articles of impeachment, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s failure to recuse himself in light of this inherent conflict of interest and failure to recommend the appointment of a second Special Counsel constitute dereliction of duty. Wherefore, Rod Rosenstein, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office,” it continues.
Democrats on Wednesday night called the articles "a direct attack on the special counsel’s investigation."
"It is a panicked and dangerous attempt to undermine an ongoing criminal investigation in an effort to protect President Trump as the walls are closing in around him and his associates," said the top Democrats on the House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and House Intelligence committees, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (Md.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffParis Hilton takes to Capitol Hill to advocate for troubled teen care reform Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt Press: Steve Bannon behind bars in Capitol basement? MORE (Calif.), in a joint statement.
"It is certainly not, as its sponsors claim, a principled attempt to conduct oversight of the Department of Justice, because House Republicans have refused to conduct oversight of any aspect of the Trump Administration, except where the inquiry might distract from their failed agenda, undermine law enforcement, and serve the interests of President Trump," they continued.
They also noted that the resolution has "no chance" of forcing Rosenstein's removal.
The move follows the Justice Department publicly releasing a heavily redacted version of the Page FISA warrant over the weekend. Republicans have been quick to claim the new information substantiates their argument that the FBI and DOJ under the Obama administration improperly used FISA authorities to surveil members of the Trump campaign.
“Multiple times we’ve caught DOJ officials hiding information from Congress, withholding relevant documents, or even outright ignoring Congressional subpoenas — and now we have evidence that Mr. Rosenstein signed off on a document using unverified political opposition research as a cornerstone of a FISA application to spy on an American citizen working for the Trump campaign," Meadows said in his statement.
The lawmakers also allege that Rosenstein has not only “repeatedly failed to produce documents” requested by the House Judiciary Oversight and Government Reform committees that are jointly investigating FBI and DOJ decisionmaking during the 2016 presidential election, but he also “attempted to conceal certain facts” by overly redacting documents they requested.
It is unclear how many other Republicans will support this measure, or if Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) and other House GOP leaders will act on the impeachment efforts. But Meadows on Wednesday night threatened to force a vote to the House floor.
"Quite frankly, it’s either we hold them in contempt or we get the documents or we impeach them," he said on Fox News. "And the only thing we have have control over is to bring impeachment straight to the floor."
Currently, the measure is not a privileged resolution, which could be brought quickly to the floor even over the wishes of leadership. However, Rosenstein critics like Meadows could force action by unveiling a new measure that is privileged.
Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, suggested some of the Republican critics were simply trying to raise political profiles with their breathless attacks on the DOJ.
Leaving the 4 p.m. DOJ meeting along with Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeSunday shows preview: Senate votes to raise debt ceiling; Facebook whistleblower blasts company during testimony Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Sunday shows preview: US grapples with rising COVID-19 cases MORE (R-Texas), Gowdy walked past Meadows — who was surrounded by reporters and bashing the agency — and said their approach is different.
“You’re talking to two former federal prosecutors who want the documents and not the drama,” Gowdy said. “We won’t be the two best quote machines.”
He said the DOJ has made progress in meeting the Republicans’ demands for greater compliance, but acknowledged that the process is naturally slow-moving.
“There are legitimate issues that have to work through as it relates to compliance. And the department may have a position that we need to hear, and we heard it today,” Gowdy said, calling it an "evolutionary process.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the articles of impeachment, but hours before the impeachment text was introduced, DOJ officials told a far different story.
Shortly before DOJ officials and House lawmakers met to discuss document production at 4 p.m., Justice Department officials on Wednesday described in detail the steps they are taking to complete the outstanding document requests as requested by the heads of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
Republicans have criticized the FBI and DOJ for not providing all the documents they are seeking to review as part of the GOP-led investigations into the email server Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Hill: Trump reelection would spur 'one constitutional crisis after another' Trump defends indicted GOP congressman MORE used while she was serving as secretary of State, as well as the FBI's decision to launch the federal investigation into Russian interference.
The DOJ officials, however, said Wednesday they have largely completed Congress's document requests, noting that they have completed and are working to fulfill the requests from three GOP-issued congressional subpoenas.
They said they have given lawmakers access to 880,000 pages that they've requested, and noted they are working with the lawmakers and their staff to give them the information they still want to review.
One DOJ official said that while the requests are historically high, they are working to respond to the lawmakers' records requests — and much of the responding is done quietly.
The feud between Republicans and the DOJ has long been in the works.
Nunes has pushed the DOJ to turn over the underlying information that ultimately compelled the FBI to open an investigation into Russian interference, like Page's FISA warrant application.
In February, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release a memo claiming the DOJ abused the FISA warrant process in order to hurt Trump's campaign.
Trump declassified the memo despite fierce and rare public objections from the FBI, which had warned that the document contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Democrats also accused Nunes of producing an intentionally misleading document that aims to undermine Mueller's investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The four-page memo, drafted by staff of Nunes, lays out a series of allegations that it says "raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."
Nunes's memo accuses senior DOJ officials of inappropriately using the controversial dossier to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members, saying it was "essential" to the acquisition of warrants on Page.
The dossier, which makes a series of salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia, was put together by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and former MI6 officer Christopher Steele. It was later revealed that the Clinton campaign partly funded the dossier.
While the dossier was a factor in the Page warrant application, it remains unclear how large a role the dossier played, given all the redactions.
The DOJ officials said Wednesday 30 lawmakers from the House and Senate have viewed the largely unredacted Page FISA application so far. Nunes, Meadows and Jordan are not on the list.
The Justice Department released the largely redacted version of the Page warrant application over the weekend after several groups sought to obtain the records through the Freedom of Information Act, putting the GOP memo under intense scrutiny.
Democrats and some FISA experts argue the new information revealed in the redacted Page application clearly shows many of the claims made in GOP-authored memo were deceiving and false.
Nunes, however, told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday that the limited release of the Page FISA "totally vindicated" them.
Mike Lillis contributed to this post which was updated at 10:45 p.m.