Several House conservatives escalated their longstanding threat to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on grounds that demands for documents about sensitive investigations have been ignored, but Justice Department officials defended their compliance.
Republican Representatives Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, along with nine co-sponsors, introduced an impeachment resolution Wednesday against Rosenstein, but notably stopped short of using a legislative procedure that would have forced a House vote before the chamber adjourns for a five-week recess Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, officials who spoke to reporters said the Justice 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 spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing document production to Congress.
The House Republicans are demanding documents related to the continuing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign as well as the FBI’s probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. They say both probes were tainted by animosity toward Republican Donald Trump, who frequently invokes that argument in tweets about what he calls a “witch hunt.”
“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.”
House leaders and other rank-and-file Republicans, however, have been cool to the idea of punishing Rosenstein, and many Senate Republicans have strongly opposed such steps.
‘Does Not Agree’
“This Senate Republican does not agree,” Jeff Flake of Arizona tweeted in response to the resolution being introduced.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina earlier Wednesday dismissed the potential for a Rosenstein impeachment, saying it’s “more likely” he’d be “in the NBA playing basketball.”
Democrats say 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.
The Justice Department 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 investigation.
Some parts of other documents won’t be provided to lawmakers if they have information that can be withheld under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, such as material related to grand jury proceedings and foreign governments, the officials said.
Just to meet the congressional demands, the department has built two reading rooms, and the FBI has written new software code to search its top-secret system, the officials said.
Over the weekend, the department released heavily redacted warrant applications and court documents related to surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The department has made documents related to the Page surveillance warrant available to lawmakers for review with few redactions. So far, some 30 lawmakers have seen them, the officials said.
House conservatives led by Meadows, Jordan and Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, have accused Rosenstein and his team of withholding documents, hiding text messages, engaging in potential federal warrant abuse, and defying congressional subpoenas.
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 later that year was spared impeachment when the House ultimately defeated the resolution.
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 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, and were included in a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general about the Clinton investigation, the officials said.
Trump and his allies seized on the texts from the two officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — to claim the Trump-Russia investigation was politically tainted from the start. Strzok is facing disciplinary proceedings, and Page has left the FBI.