Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Tuesday compared the articles of impeachment drafted against him by members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to an extortion attempt.
“There have been people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time, and I think they should understand the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted,” he said, speaking at the Newseum’s Law Day event. “We are going to do what is required by the rule of law and any kind of threats anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.”
The House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, has drafted eight articles of impeachment against Mr. Rosenstein, multiple media outlets reported late Monday. Those drafts reportedly accuse Mr. Rosenstein of abusing his authority when he renewed a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on Trump campaign aide Carter Page ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Previous FISA warrants to spy on Mr. Page were signed by former FBI Director James B. Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates along with other officials then at the Justice Department.
The impeachment draft states that Mr. Rosenstein “failed to enforce multiple laws” including “improper authorization of searches and electronic surveillance” under FISA and failing to act on behalf of the attorney general by “failing to demonstrate probable cause to believe the targets of surveillance were a foreign power or agents of a foreign power,” the news outlets reported.
Mr. Rosenstein fired back Tuesday.
“They can’t even resist leaking their own drafts,” he said. “I just don’t have anything to say about documents like that, that nobody has the courage to put their name on and that they leak in that way.”
Members of the conservative caucus told media outlets the impeachment drafts are “last resort” in the event that Mr. Rosenstein or the Department of Justice stonewall efforts to obtain documents related to the surveillance of Mr. Page. It appears the impeachment effort is a warning shot of possible consequences if there is a delay in releasing any FISA documents.
“My frustrations about their inability to respond to simple requests could warrant further action,” Mr. Meadows told The Washington Post.
At least five committees are investigating Justice Department investigations and decisions related to the 2016 campaign and whether department leaders were biased. Among the documents sought by Congress are those including deliberations on whether or not to charge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server to conduct official correspondence and an inspector general’s determination that Mr. McCabe misled investigators about a media leak regarding a Clinton Foundation probe.
Some Republican committee chairmen, including Reps. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina at Oversight and Bob Goodllatte of Virginia at Judiciary, have complained that it has taken the Justice Department too long to comply with the document requests.
The Justice Department has said that is is complying with the document requests, but the sheer volume of pages and number of necessary redactions have complicated the process. Last week, Mr. Gowdy and Mr. Goodlatte said they reached an agreement with the Justice Department over document production.
Mr. Rosenstein defended the Justice Department’s efforts to give Congress those documents.
“We have a responsibility to work with the Congress, and they have a responsibility to understand their duty is not to interfere … as long as everyone understands that, we are able to work these things out,” he said.
Mr. Rosenstein later added, “I have a responsibility as deputy attorney general, as does the attorney general to defend the independence and integrity of Department of Justice. Were we to just open our doors to allow Congress to come and rummage thorough the files, that would be a serous infringement on the separation of powers.”
A Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee told CNN on Tuesday that the threat to impeach Mr. Rosenstein would send a “terrible message.”
Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, indicated that impeachment possibility is an effort by conservative lawmakers to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and President Trump’s campaign. Mr. Rosenstein, the second in command at the Justice Department, is overseeing the investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
“The president’s obviously growing more and more concerned about what ultimately will be his fate,” Mr. Cicilline told the news network Tuesday. “We should protect our democracy, protect this process, protect the rule of law. I’m very disappointed that they would even suggest that they were seriously considering removing Rod Rosenstein.”