(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday he might use his executive authority to intervene in a fight over internal Justice Department documents sought by House Republicans.
“A Rigged System - They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
A group of congressional Republicans have criticized the Justice Department for not providing an array of documents as promptly and completely as they requested. The demands run the gamut from early paperwork opening he federal investigation in 2016 of Russia interference in the presidential campaign, to details behind search warrant applications, to decisions made in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails.
The Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday that it’s refusing to provide the Republican lawmakers an August 2017 memo defining the scope of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election because it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation.
While Trump didn’t say how he’d get involved in the conflict over documents, it’s possible he could order the Justice Department to provide the lawmakers with access to classified material. The group of House Republicans, led by Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, have also raised the prospect of ousting Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They have drafted articles of impeachment to remove him from office if he doesn’t produce the documents they demand.
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, a successor to Rosenstein would have the power to remove Mueller or narrow the scope of his wide-ranging probe. That’s fed speculation that Trump might fire Rosenstein.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, warned Trump not to “go down this road” in a tweet Wednesday responding to the president’s missive.
“Mr. President, the powers of the Presidency do not give you the right to interfere with or shut down the Russia investigation,” Schumer said. “Firing the Deputy AG or Director Mueller would create a constitutional crisis.”
Justice Department officials have defended their approach to the document turnover, saying they’ve sought to balance privacy concerns and ongoing investigations with congressional oversight. They’ve said materials related to grand jury investigations and active, sensitive law enforcement operations need to be withheld. Still, dozens of lawmakers and staff from both parties have viewed thousands of classified documents, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
House staff on both the Republican and Democratic side also now have temporary office space at the department to review hundreds of thousands of documents that are part of a broad inspector general investigation, according to the department.
Rosenstein said Tuesday that the Justice Department had a “responsibility to defend the institution.”
“If we were to just open our doors to allow Congress to come and rummage through the files, that would be a serious infringement on the separation of powers,” he said.
“There are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time,” Rosenstein said at an event in Washington. “I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We’re going to do what’s required by the rule of law.”
Responding to the Justice Department’s refusal to share the memo on the scope of Mueller’s investigation, Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio said in an interview Wednesday, “They told us to take a hike.”
“Our attitude is the American people have a right to know about the scope of the investigation targeting the president they elected," Jordan said.
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