Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s critics on Capitol Hill aren’t calling for his head — at least for now.
President Donald Trump’s top congressional allies have spent months building a case for Rosenstein’s ouster, even threatening to impeach him in July. But after an explosive New York Times report Friday that Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office — and proposed wearing a wire to spy on the president — Trump’s allies have been muted.
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House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who led a charge to impeach Rosenstein this summer, have said they want to hear from Rosenstein and see documents allegedly describing the comments before they decide what to do. That’s awarded Rosenstein a courtesy they’ve never given him in the past.
“I think Rod needs to come before Congress this week and explain under oath what exactly he said and didn’t say,” Meadows said at the Values Voters Summit Saturday.
The newfound hesitation to oust Rosenstein highlights a cautious approach Trump allies have adopted as the Republican party barrels toward a potential bloodbath in the midterms. Some Republicans fear Trump firing Rosenstein now would only further energize Democrats making the case to voters that the president is corrupt and needs to be reined in by a Democratic House.
House Republicans are also facing a time crunch. GOP leaders plan to cancel all October votes to allow members to campaign, leaving little time to go after Rosenstein.
In fact, Trump allies have just four days to come up with a plan — which could be why they appear likely to delay any action until after the election.
In a Friday interview, Jordan, one of Rosenstein’s fiercest critics in Congress, sidestepped questions about whether the House should revisit Rosenstein’s impeachment or try to hold him in contempt of Congress. Rather, he said, a more focused push to obtain sensitive documents from the Justice Department — which Trump’s allies say would expose anti-Trump bias and corruption the FBI — is the most urgent priority.
“I want to see those memos and evaluate them,” said Jordan, who has clashed publicly with Rosenstein over access to documents and accused him of threatening House Intelligence Committee staffers, an allegation Rosenstein denied.
Jordan wasn’t alone in his hesitation. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), another vocal Trump ally who has regularly blasted Rosenstein’s stewardship of the Russia investigation, noted that “these [NYT] assertions, however, are based entirely on anonymous sources, which are far from a guarantee of veracity.”
“Furthermore, the reports differ in their assessment of Mr. Rosenstein’s intent in saying these words,” Gaetz continued. “Some sources claim he was speaking in jest; others say that he was serious.”
The skepticism reflected the views of some of Trump’s allies in the media, who spent much of Friday night warning that the apparent smoking gun to fire Rosenstein could actually be a trap meant to ensnare the president politically and legally. Fox News host Sean Hannity, whose show has regularly been a platform for guests demanding Rosenstein’s firing or resignation, suggested Trump should reject calls to fire Rosenstein because it could be the “deep-state” goading him into a controversy.
“I have a message for the president tonight,” Hannity said Friday night. “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody. … The president needs to know it is all a setup.”
Trump’s House allies have been investigating allegations of anti-Trump bias at the FBI for months — and taken their anger out on Rosenstein. They say the deputy attorney general has slow-walked complying with their demands for documents. That was their stated justification for threatening to impeach him over the summer.
Democrats and Rosenstein defenders have long argued that Jordan and Meadows are merely trying to provide Trump a pretext to fire Rosenstein because he oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation. That probe has edged deep inside Trump’s inner circle, and Trump himself is believed to be the subject of an obstruction of justice probe.
By removing Rosenstein, Democrats argue, Trump could replace him with a loyalist who would exert more influence over Mueller’s work.
Now Republicans have an even more egregious accusation they can latch onto, but they’re not. The caution toward Rosenstein is a marked turnaround from previous dust-ups, when Trump’s allies in the House have given Rosenstein’s version of events little credence and have seized on anonymously sourced news reports to impugn Rosenstein’s character.
A Fox News report in July suggesting Rosenstein had threatened to access the phone records and emails of House Intelligence Committee staffers — which Rosenstein similarly denied — triggered a pointed confrontation between Jordan and Rosenstein at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in June.
This time, though, conservatives in the House are raising skepticism about the sources behind the Times story, noting that it was drawn in part from memos drafted by former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was fired earlier this year and is facing possible prosecution for allegedly making false statements to internal investigators.
“Andy McCabe is under investigation for lying to the FBI,” Meadows wrote on Twitter Friday night. “His words and memos should be viewed with extreme skepticism.”
Jordan in the interview said he wants to see the FBI documents that allege Rosenstein discussed the 25th amendment and secretly taping the president.
Two senior leadership sources told POLITICO they didn’t expect Trump backers in the House to force the impeachment issue this week. They argued that Rosenstein has been turning over documents that Jordan and Meadows want.
The earlier effort to impeach Rosenstein appeared to have stalled. It had 15 cosponsors in the House before lawmakers left for the August recess, and no one has signed the document since then.
Not everyone appears to have gotten the memo, however. Conservative news personalities Jeanine Pirro, Matt Schlapp and Laura Ingraham all called on Trump to fire Rosenstein over the Times report.
Ingraham, however, later deleted a tweet that read, “Rod Rosenstein must be fired today.”