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Could Republicans Successfully Impeach Rod Rosenstein?

A new filing accuses the deputy attorney general of failing to provide Congress with information regarding the Mueller investigation

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, wipes his upper lip while speaking during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Rosenstein briefed the media about U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller announcing an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 presidential election and operating fake social media accounts.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A group of 11 Republican lawmakers on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), the resolution accuses Rosenstein of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” alleging that he has been withholding information from Congress regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — which Rosenstein oversees — as well as the FBI’s closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

The move to impeach Rosenstein comes at a time of heightened tension between the Justice Department and Congressional Republicans, who have spent months demanding details concerning the scope and provenance of the FBI’s Russia investigation. Though the Justice Department has so far released over 800,000 pages of relevant documents to Congress, that hasn’t been enough for the 11 House Freedom Caucus members who signed the impeachment resolution.

“For nine months we’ve warned them consequences were coming, and for nine months we’ve heard the same excuses backed up by the same unacceptable conduct,” Meadows 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 seven-page resolution calls for Rosenstein’s impeachment based on five articles, which are expounded upon in the filing. Cited is Rosenstein’s refusal to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, his failure to produce the documents requested by Congress in a timely manner, over-redacting the documents that have been produced, over-classifying the memo outlining the scope of Mueller’s investigation and shortcomings related to the Carter Page FISA application, which was made public last week.

It’s hard to read the filing as anything other than a bad-faith effort to protect President Trump by undermining the Mueller investigation, the president’s criticism of which has intensified in recent months. Several of the allegations are vague if not outright erroneous. Several others detail events that took place before Rosenstein had the job.

Contrary to what the filling says, the FISA application released last week indicates that the FBI did not obfuscate that the Steele dossier was paid for by the Clinton campaign. The application contains an entire page, including bolded text, outlining that Steele was hired for political purposes. Four separate federal judges, all Republicans, signed off on the application.

The resolution reads like a measured, properly capitalized version of the president’s tweets on the subject, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Meadows is one of Trump’s most ardent supporters in Congress, and that Jordan, too, has defended the president at nearly every turn. When the latter was accused by multiple people earlier this month of ignoring sexual abuse while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State, Trump dismissed the allegations out of hand, calling Jordan “one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington.”

The most heated moment of Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month came when an incensed Jordan repeatedly badgered the deputy attorney general about why he is “keeping information from Congress.” Rosenstein clearly didn’t appreciate the line of questioning.

Republican leadership hasn’t been so irked by Rosenstein’s handling of the investigation. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said publicly that he has no problem with how the deputy attorney general has complied with document requests. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the idea of impeachment “far-fetched.” Even Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who two weeks ago harangued FBI agent Peter Strzok about potential bias in his handling of the investigation prior to the 2016 election, has said that he disagrees with the effort to remove Rosenstein from office. “Impeachment is a punishment, it’s not a remedy,” Gowdy said Wednesday. “If you are looking for documents, then you want compliance, and you want whatever moves you toward compliance.”

House Democrats are opposed to the idea as well. “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,” Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) wrote in a joint statement released Wednesday.

There is virtually no chance that Wednesday night’s filing will lead to Rosenstein’s removal from office. Not only does the resolution not have enough Republican support in the House, the deputy attorney general’s ouster would also require the support of two thirds of the Senate, which would conduct a trial if the resolution were to make it through the House. Not only is support for the resolution scant, it likely won’t even make it to the floor. Impeachment resolutions are procedural anomalies in that they typically don’t require the support of House leadership to be brought to the floor for a vote. But a spokesperson for Meadows told NBC News on Wednesday that the motion to impeach Rosenstein isn’t a “privileged” one, which means it will indeed require the support of leadership before it can be brought up for a vote.

Though it likely won’t lead to Rosenstein’s termination, the filing is the first concrete effort Republican lawmakers have made to end the Mueller investigation. So far, the “witch hunt” has led to dozens of indictments, including the charges filed two weeks ago against 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Clinton campaign and other Democratic networks prior to the 2016 election. President Trump could also be at risk, though, and the filing makes clear that protecting the president — not the United States — is what Meadows, Jordan and their cohorts in the Freedom Caucus have prioritized.

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