President Donald Trump’s top allies in Congress say they’ll force a vote on impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he refuses to testify this week about reports that he sought to secretly record the president after FBI Director James Comey’s firing last year.
“I do not believe doing nothing is OK when the guy who runs DOJ makes comments about taping the commander in chief,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview. “No matter what the context, it requires further investigation. The Judiciary Committee has an obligation to investigate.”
Trump’s top conservative allies are ratcheting up pressure on House leaders to force a hearing. They’ve been privately pressing Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to arrange a public session with Rosenstein as quickly as possible. Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have reached out to Goodlatte repeatedly to attempt to schedule a hearing.
So far, though, Goodlatte has not scheduled a hearing, and Justice Department officials say they’ve received no invitations for Rosenstein to testify. Speaker Paul Ryan’s office declined to comment on the prospect of Rosenstein testifying.
That’s why Meadows and Trump’s other top backers in the House say they’re reviving the notion of seeking Rosenstein’s impeachment. Meadows called it a “last resort,” and he argued members of both parties should want to know details about what Rosenstein’s intentions were in that crucial window in 2017.
Their case against Rosenstein was rejuvenated on Friday after The New York Times reported that Rosenstein, in the chaotic aftermath of Comey’s firing, proposed secretly taping Trump and even recruiting support for his removal using the 25th Amendment. Rosenstein has sharply denied the report, suggesting it referred to sarcastic comments that had been misconstrued.
The new GOP pressure campaign for Rosenstein to testify comes as Trump prepares to huddle with him on Thursday and discuss the fallout from the Times article. The meeting was scheduled Monday, after a frantic day of conflicting reports about whether Rosenstein had offered to resign over the weekend or had been preparing to be fired.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in a phone interview that it’s “troubling” that the Judiciary Committee had not yet sought Rosenstein’s testimony. He said Trump’s allies in the House would press forward with impeachment even if the president decides to keep Rosenstein after their Thursday meeting.
“Regardless of what the president does, the Congress has an oversight obligation to ensure that the Department of Justice is being run properly,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz similarly pressed his case on Fox News late Monday, calling on House leaders to force Rosenstein to come in — or else deal with the impeachment effort.
“If our leadership will not put Rod Rosenstein in that witness chair so the American people can get answers, Mark Meadows and I are prepared to call up his impeachment and force a vote,” Gaetz said in an interview with host Lou Dobbs.
The timing is urgent for Trump’s allies. House members are expected to leave Washington on Friday until after the November elections. Impeachment articles are considered “privileged” — meaning a single lawmaker can call them up for a vote — but House procedures allow Ryan to wait up to two days before holding the vote.
Though Gaetz floated the notion that the articles could be called up late in the week, Republicans could file the measure as early as Tuesday night in order to force a vote before lawmakers leave for the campaign trail.
Meadows, Gaetz and other conservative Trump allies have been building a case for Rosenstein’s removal for months, accusing him of standing in the way of congressional efforts to obtain sensitive documents connected to the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. They drafted impeachment articles in July laying out a case for his ouster. The Times story on Friday reenergized that effort.
Democrats have accused Trump and Republicans of manufacturing outrage at Rosenstein because of his role overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation. Democrats say Trump’s allies are seeking to engineer Rosenstein’s removal and clear the way for Trump to appoint a successor who could exert more influence over Mueller’s investigation.
As of Tuesday morning, Democrats had not received notice of any effort by Goodlatte to schedule a hearing. If Goodlatte were to subpoena the Justice Department for Rosenstein’s testimony, he’s required by committee rules to give Democrats 48 hours notice.
Meadows, who isn’t on the Judiciary Committee, said he’s urging colleagues in positions of authority to make it happen.
“I have made a number of phone calls to DOJ and relevant colleagues to try to allow for a congressional hearing to happen voluntarily,” he said.