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House GOP keeping up pressure on Rosenstein after Trump postpones meeting

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein listen the national anthem during the opening of the summit on Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking at Department of Justice in Washington, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

House Republicans are maintaining pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein even as President Donald Trump postponed a Thursday meeting where he was expected to fire the Justice Department's No. 2.

The White House announced Thursday that Trump and Rosenstein will meet "next week." A day earlier, Trump signaled he may not fire his deputy attorney general, saying at a press conference, "I would much prefer keeping Rod Rosenstein."

Even if the president does not take action, Republican lawmakers who have been targeting Rosenstein for months, said they will.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus expect to bring Rosenstein to testify before Congress "soon." Mostly, they want the deputy attorney general to explain reports that he wanted to secretly record President Trump and had discussed removing him from office under the 25th Amendment. Rosenstein denied the reports.

The report sparked a Justice Department shakeup Monday with Rosenstein making an unexpected visit to the White House where he allegedly offered his resignation. President Trump, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, did not immediately accept the resignation.

Beyond any steps President Trump may take, Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows of North Carolina said Congress has a "clear" and "independent" role to play in response to Rosenstein's alleged actions.

"We have an oversight role regardless of what the president does and that's what I'm pushing our leadership to follow through on," Meadows told Circa.

On Tuesday, Meadows led the Freedom Caucus in demanding Rosenstein testify "within the week" or resign immediately. "There is zero excuse for Congress not to call Rod Rosenstein to testify under oath on his alleged comments about 'wiring the President,'" he tweeted.

Rosenstein is not expected to come to Capitol Hill this week. However, Freedom Caucus leaders met Wednesday afternoon with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to discuss how to proceed with the hearing.

Ryan initially brushed off the Freedom Caucus' demand, saying Wednesday that Congress "should not step in the way" and "we should let the president work it out with Rod Rosenstein."

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, indicated the leadership has changed that position. "It's moving in a good direction," he told Circa. "I think he'll be coming soon."

Chairman Goodlatte could not give a date for Rosenstein's testimony but told Circa, "We're working on it." The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

If President Trump does not fire Rosenstein, some members of Congress are considering articles of impeachment. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., doubled down in an interview with Fox News, saying, "It's my expectation that if Rod Rosenstein is not before the House Judiciary Committee to give testimony about what happened and the context, that we may force a vote on his impeachment."

Meadows, when asked by Circa if impeachment was on the table, said he was considering "all tools," though impeachment is "a last resort," he added. "I'm hopeful we're making progress in other areas that would preclude that."

Meadows drafted articles of impeachment for Rosenstein earlier this year over his refusal to hand over sensitive documents to members of Congress related to the special counsel investigation of Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.

House Democrats have been frustrated at what they see as repeated Republican efforts to help the White House by attacking the Justice Department.

"They ought to stop being a part of the defense team for the president," vice chairman of the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told Circa. "They need to let Rosenstein do his job and let Mueller do his job."

In the meantime, Goodlatte has issued a subpoena for Justice Department memos that reportedly document Rosenstein's anxiety about Trump and could reveal whether he proposed secretly recording the president. A handful of Republicans have been trying to get access to the memos since July, but the Justice Department denied their requests citing an ongoing investigation.

The memos were drafted in spring 2017 by then-acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Andrew McCabe. McCabe was fired in January for alleged misconduct and could face charges of misleading investigators in a leak probe.

According to reports from The New York Times, the McCabe memos describe meetings and discussions around the chaotic period when President Trump's fired FBI Director James Comey and Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation.

The FBI and Rosenstein were reportedly concerned that Trump's decision to fire Comey was motivated by the Russia investigation. Rosenstein allegedly proposed secretly recording the president on multiple occasions to discern his intentions. He even suggested candidates being interviewed to lead the FBI might wear a wire.

Rosenstein rejected the claims in the Times report as "inaccurate and factually incorrect." In a statement, Rosenstein said he "I never pursued or authorized recording the president and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false."

For the better part of a year, Trump has criticized Rosenstein and raged at his handling of the Mueller probe, prompting speculation that he was about to fire him. Those rumors were generally met with warnings from Democrats and Republicans that removing the man overseeing the Russia probe would carry dire political consequences.

"I think he'll open a Pandora's box if he dismisses Rod Rosenstein," said Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly.

Firing Rosenstein while the Mueller investigation is continuing to collect evidence and rack up convictions would be to "obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation," Connelly warned. "That's a very grave thing to do and I pray and hope the president will decide upon reflection that’s not a wise thing to do."

With the latest reports surfacing 40 days before the midterm elections, a number of Trump's Republican allies. Even Sean Hannity, who regularly rails against the Justice Department leadership, delivered an unequivocal message to Trump. "Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody," Hannity said on his show last Friday. "The president needs to know it is all a setup."

It is unclear who will take over for Rosenstein if Trump fires him or accepts his resignation when they meet next Thursday. The White House reportedly began working to find a replacement last week.

According to a Justice Department memo from the Obama administration, the normal line of succession would put the solicitor general in the No. 2 position at DOJ, in this case, Noel Francisco, a longtime conservative lawyer appointed by Trump in January 2017.

Other reports indicate Matthew G. Whitaker, the chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, could be chosen to fill a vacancy. Whitaker has been described as a Trump loyalist, who could potentially rein in the special counsel investigation.

Last August, Whitaker wrote an opinion piece encouraging Rosenstein to narrow the scope of Mueller's investigation. He said that investigation Trump or his family's finances "goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel."

Again, regardless of whether President Trump dismisses Rosenstein or keeps him, congressional Republicans will continue pursuing testimony and documents from the Justice Department.

"Regardless of what may or may not happen with Mr. Rosenstein's position, he needs to answer our questions. So we're going to continue to push for that" Jordan stressed.

Part of that is ensuring the Justice Department recognizes the subpoena for the McCabe memos, despite previous refusals to make those documents available to Congress.

The McCabe memos could also be released by President Trump who ordered the declassification of a host of sensitive FBI documents, text messages, and other materials earlier this month. Trump delayed the declassification process last week.

He wrote in a tweet that the Justice Department Inspector General was reviewing the material "on an expedited basis." The Justice Department officials urged the review telling the president that releasing them "may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe." Additional "key Allies" requested the materials not be released.

Republicans will continue their efforts to make information about the Russia investigation available to the public this week. On Friday, the House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to vote to release transcripts of 53 interviews conducted during their Russia investigation.

The transcripts include multiple interviews with Andrew McCabe as well as interviews with Jeff Sessions, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other current and former officials. The measure is expected to pass and the transcripts will be reviewed and released within weeks.


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