House conservatives are preparing a new push to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to three conservative Capitol Hill sources — putting the finishing touches on an impeachment filing even as Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 election.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in fact, had the impeachment document on the floor of the House at the very moment that Rosenstein spoke to reporters and TV cameras Friday.
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Conservative GOP lawmakers have been plotting to remove Rosenstein for weeks, accusing him of slow-walking their probe of FBI agents they’ve accused of bias against President Donald Trump.
Democrats contend Republicans’ fixation on Rosenstein is really an effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller, who reports to Rosenstein and has been making inroads in his investigation of the Russian election interference plot. Mueller’s probe has entangled members of Trump’s inner circle and Trump has increasingly assailed it as a politically motivated “witch hunt” as it’s presented greater danger to him and his allies.
Conservative sources say they could file the impeachment document as soon as Monday, as Meadows and Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) look to build Republican support in the House. One source cautioned, however, that the timing was still fluid.
“It has not been filed today,” was all Meadows spokesman Ben Williamson would say. Williamson declined to rule out whether Meadows intended to file the document next week.
Republicans could also try to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress, if they want to go a step before impeachment.
It is unclear how much support conservatives will have in their effort. Rosenstein has become a punching bag for Trump and his allies as they vent frustration over the Russia investigation. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, Rosenstein has overseen the Mueller probe, which is also examining potential obstruction of justice charges against the president.
But House GOP leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan have clearly been uncomfortable with the notion of going after Rosenstein. It’s unlikely that will change anytime soon, especially so soon after the latest indictments. Ryan’s office was not immediately available for comment.
Rosenstein has clashed with House Republicans for months, with Rosenstein insisting that he’s working to comply with the GOP’s intensive demands for documents — some directly relevant to Mueller’s ongoing probe.
But Ryan and other top GOP lawmakers have accused him of stonewalling and flouting Congress’ oversight authority. Trump, too, has frequently sided with lawmakers to pressure Rosenstein to turn over more documents, an effort Democrats say is really meant to arm Trump with more insight into the Russia probe.
The House, with Ryan’s blessing, adopted a measure last month accusing Rosenstein and other DOJ officials of bucking Congress and demanding access to thousands of sensitive FBI documents by July 6. It’s unclear whether Republican leaders are satisfied with DOJ’s efforts since then or if they’re preparing a renewed push for the materials.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that the White House overruled the FBI and ordered broader access for some GOP lawmakers to documents related to an informant connected to the ongoing Russia probe.
In his remarks Friday, Rosenstein urged the public to be wary of leaks surrounding the Mueller probe.
“We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings. Most anonymous leaks are not from the government officials who are actually conducting these investigations,” he said.
“We follow the rule of law, which means that we follow procedures, and we reserve judgment,” he added. “We complete our investigations, and we evaluate all of the relevant evidence before we reach any conclusion. That is how the American people expect their Department of Justice to operate, and that is how our department is going to operate.”
But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has made clear that he doesn’t consider Rosenstein out of the woods yet.
After a daylong grilling Thursday of FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok — whom Republicans have accused of bias in the Russia probe — Goodlatte said he blamed Rosenstein for limiting Strzok’s ability to reveal details of his work.
“Rosenstein, who has oversight over the FBI and of the Mueller investigation is where the buck stops,” he said. “Congress has been blocked today from conducting its constitutional oversight duty.”