Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), right, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), its founding member, filed the articles of impeachment late Wednesday. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
The move by two top Trump allies came as the House is set to depart for a five-week recess and is unlikely to pass.
House conservatives have filed articles of impeachment in an effort to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the overseer of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The articles, filed late Wednesday by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — two top allies of President Donald Trump — blast Rosenstein for what they allege was a failure to respond to congressional document demands. Senior Justice Department officials have rejected the criticism and described historic levels of cooperation with Congress to share files connected to the FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email server and Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
Though the move marks an escalation by Trump allies against Rosenstein, who has drawn Trump’s ire for appointing Mueller last year, Meadows sidestepped a procedural move that could have forced the issue to a vote this week and laid bare divisions among Republicans. Instead, the House is leaving Thursday for a five-week recess and it’s unclear whether conservatives will attempt to force the issue when lawmakers return in September.
Meadows and Jordan’s decision to file the articles of impeachment came hours after they huddled with top Justice Department officials at the Capitol to discuss lingering demands for documents. Other lawmakers in the meeting had described progress and rejected the notion of impeaching Rosenstein, but Meadows and Jordan said they remained dissatisfied.
“The DOJ is keeping information from Congress. Enough is enough,” Jordan said in a statement. “It’s time to hold Mr. Rosenstein accountable for blocking Congress’s constitutional oversight role.”
The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the effort.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has previously rejected calls to impeach Rosenstein. He recently described to dispute over Justice Department documents as a “compliance” matter that was well on the way to being resolved. Without GOP leaders’ support, it’s unlikely an impeachment bid could pass the House — and even if it did, it would be doomed in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required to oust any executive branch official.
“This Senate Republican does not agree,” Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted in response to the news.
But Rosenstein’s sharpest House critics have previously suggested that laying out articles of impeachment could be enough to prompt Trump to act against Rosenstein on his own.
“We were just kind of hoping somebody else would do it first, either [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions or the president,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said in a recent interview.
The articles of impeachment accuse Rosenstein of failing to appoint a second special counsel to review the FBI’s actions in the Russia probe — a demand some Republicans have been making for months. They note that Rosenstein himself could be a witness to elements of Mueller’s investigation and argue he should recuse himself. Subsequent articles fault Rosenstein for refusing to provide certain documents and concealing others, allegations the Justice Department has sharply denied.
The articles of impeachment also chastise Rosenstein for refusing to share with lawmakers the memo outlining the scope of Mueller’s investigation. The Justice Department has refused that request on the grounds that it would impede the ongoing probe.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani earlier Wednesday rejected the Justice Department’s argument for refusing to share the Mueller scope memo, which Trump’s legal team has demanded as well.
“Is the reason national security? What’s the reason? Obviously it’s troublesome,” he said in a phone interview. “I was going to say it’s more troublesome to Congress than to us. But that’s not true. We’d like to assure ourselves they have the authority to do all this stuff they’re doing.”
Rosenstein was not among the Justice Department officials who traveled to the Capitol on Wednesday. The group was led by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd and U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who was tapped by Sessions earlier this year to help mediate the document disputes. FBI General Counsel Dana Boente was also on hand.
Meadows and Jordan were joined in the meeting by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas).
Gowdy exited the meeting saying that lawmakers were “making progress” toward getting the documents.
“I’m not a big fan of drama,” he said. “I’d like the documents.”
Jordan, Meadows and their nine conservative cosponsors passed up an opportunity to vote on their articles of impeachment before the recess. Under House procedures, had they introduced the articles as a “privileged” resolution on Tuesday or earlier, they would have had the option of forcing a vote before lawmakers left town.
Instead, by introducing it Wednesday and opting to allow it to go through the standard committee process, they allowed the measure to languish until September.
Earlier Wednesday, in anticipation of a possible impeachment push, Justice Department officials laid out a massive document-sharing undertaking that they had worked on with House GOP lawmakers. They noted that they had shared more than 880,000 pages of documents connected to the Clinton probe with the Judiciary and Oversight committees. They said they had nearly completed turning over documents demanded in two subpoenas issued by the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees earlier this year.
And officials described an intricate process in which they invited staff and lawmakers to the Justice Department to review documents in person and negotiate over access to sensitive material.
Democrats called the effort a thinly veiled attempt to weaken Rosenstein and help Trump exert more influence over the Mueller investigation, which has crept deeply into Trump’s inner circle.
“The American people have had enough of this manufactured crisis and Republicans’ continuing efforts to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “Will [House Republicans] side with Putin or the American people, the rule of law and our democracy?”
Though Trump’s top House allies were unmoved by the effort, the meeting with Justice Department officials did appear to produce at least some results that Republicans favored. Participants in the meeting say the FBI approved additional lines of inquiry for Peter Strzok, the FBI counterintelligence agent whose anti-Trump text messages in 2016 have fueled Trump’s complaints that the bureau’s Russia investigation is a partisan “witch hunt.”
Republicans were frustrated during Strzok’s explosive interview earlier this month when the FBI repeatedly intervened to block him from answer questions about his role in the Russia probe and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But Republicans said FBI counsel Dana Boente agreed at Wednesday’s meeting that Strzok would be permitted to answer additional questions.
It’s unlikely to be a repeat of the public spectacle that Strzok’s last hearing became. Some GOP lawmakers said the session would likely be behind closed doors, and Gowdy (R-S.C.) said it’s also possible Strzok could simply answer written questions.
Strzok sharply defended his anti-Trump text exchanges with FBI attorney Lisa Page as private, personal opinions that never affected his work. Republicans have suggested that Strzok’s personal views could not be separated from his role in the investigations, but so far the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, has said he’s found no evidence that Strzok’s views bled into official actions.
Strzok, too, emphasized that many layers of checks within the FBI would have prevented personal bias from infecting the bureau’s work.