Ryan Opposes Rosenstein Impeachment Bid Launched by House GOP
(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he doesn’t support the effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by a group of conservative Republicans who filed articles of impeachment the previous night.
“Do I support impeachment of Rod Rosenstein? No, I do not,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly news conference. “I don’t think this rises to high crimes and misdemeanors; that’s a very high standard.”
The move by the conservatives, some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal allies in the U.S. House, is based on what they consider months of stonewalling of congressional demands for documents and other material about the investigation of Russian election-meddling and potential involvement by the president’s campaign.
Ryan of Wisconsin said, though, that the Justice Department has been complying with document requests.
If the House were to pass impeachment articles, "this would tie the Senate into knots” when members need to be acting on other matters, Ryan said.
Rosenstein has outlasted months of threats of impeachment or other punitive action, and some lawmakers are predicting he’s in the clear at least for now.
A summer legislative recess and the election-year calendar is likely to protect Rosenstein from facing the impeachment sought by the conservative Republicans.
“I just don’t see that happening,” GOP Representative Dennis Ross of Florida said. He and other House and Senate Republicans say they see no enthusiasm for taking definitive action against the No. 2 official at the Justice Department -- either now or nearer to the November election.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also dismissed the possibility, saying it’s “more likely" he’d end up "in the NBA playing basketball” than Rosenstein is to to be impeached.
No Immediate Vote
The impeachment resolution was filed by conservative Representatives Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan and co-signed by nine colleagues. The group, however, stopped short of using a legislative maneuver that would have forced a vote before the chamber begins a five-week recess Thursday. On Thursday, Jordan announced he would run to replace Ryan, who isn’t running for re-election, as speaker.
Meadows, Jordan and others, including Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, have for months been accusing Rosenstein of obstructing their efforts to get to the bottom of anti-Trump bias that they say infected the FBI and Justice Department during its probe of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails and early in the continuing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Democrats counter that the real goal is to topple Rosenstein because he named Robert Mueller as special counsel and oversees his continuing inquiry into the Russian meddling and whether anyone around Trump conspired in it. A replacement for Rosenstein could fire Mueller or narrow the scope of his work, which Trump has often assailed as a “witch hunt.”
“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,” the top Democrats on the House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Intelligence panels said in a joint statement.
Jerrold Nadler of New York, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Adam Schiff of California added: “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.”
With the five-week House summer recess, Rosenstein -- and Mueller -- now get some breathing room after weeks of pressure and criticism.
And when House lawmakers return to Washington in September -- roughly 60 days before the November elections -- there will be little appetite among rank-and-file Republicans for contentious votes on impeachment or contempt of Congress, some Republicans say.
Ross, a member of the House GOP’s vote-counting team who’s not running for re-election, said he can speak openly about the “heartburn” some of his colleagues feel over the assaults against Rosenstein and the Justice Department.
Mueller’s indictment this month of 12 Russian intelligence officers on allegations of interfering in the 2016 election has fortified contentions by Democrats and some Republicans that Mueller and Rosenstein should be left alone to finish their work.
‘Time Is Up’
Undaunted, conservatives have continued to argue that the Mueller probe and Rosenstein’s non-compliance are two separate issues. They say they are duty-bound to carry out congressional oversight.
“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, chairman of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus, said in a statement Wednesday night. “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 House conservatives -- led by Meadows, Judiciary Committee member Jordan and Nunes -- haven’t let up on their complaints that Rosenstein and the Justice Department have hidden documents and text messages, engaged in abuse of federal warrants and routinely defied congressional subpoenas.
"Another week, another no-show," Meadows complained at one point.
The steps they took Wednesday echoed similar maneuvering in 2016 by some of the same lawmakers, targeting then-IRS commissioner John Koskinen for impeachment before that year’s seven-week House summer break. Koskinen was spared impeachment later that year when the House ultimately rejected the push, sending a resolution back to committee.
Rosenstein told lawmakers in June that he and the Justice Department are doing their best to provide the information sought by Congress.
"When you find some problem with the production or with questions, it doesn’t mean that I’m personally trying to conceal something from you," he said, calling the personal attacks against him “deeply wrong.”
Justice Department officials, briefing reporters Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said the department has fully complied with two subpoenas from the House Intelligence Committee and met almost all demands in a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee.
The officials said the only document the department won’t make available to lawmakers is an unredacted version of a memorandum from Rosenstein to Mueller authorizing specific activities once he took over the Russia investigation.
The biggest unmet demand is providing lawmakers access to unredacted documents related to the Clinton investigation, which falls under the House Judiciary subpoena, the officials said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions put a U.S. attorney, John Lausch, in charge of providing Congress with the documents.
Lausch has identified 880,000 pages of documents relevant to that subpoena and is working with lawmakers to provide access, the officials said.
The department also found -- and is now reviewing -- 130,000 text messages on the phones of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI officials who were sharply critical of Trump, the officials said. Most of the texts are copies of ones that have already been reviewed or made public. Page has since left the FBI, and Strzok has been removed from active duty while he’s under review for possible disciplinary action.
One top Republican, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss meetings with Ryan and other Republican leaders, said they haven’t shown any inclination to formally punish Rosenstein.
The aim instead is to keep channels open with the Justice Department, and to maintain the momentum that has led to more document production in recent weeks, the lawmaker said.
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