Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

House Conservatives Back Down On Threat To Impeach Rosenstein

July 26, 2018 - 4:51 pm

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880) -- Conservative Republicans in the U.S. House on Thursday backed down on a threat to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The articles against Rosenstein were filed late Wednesday by U.S. Reps. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), two top Trump allies.

They blame Rosenstein for what they claim was failure to respond to congressional document demands, Politico reported.

“You begin to wonder if this was just an idea, maybe, to fire a shot right across Rod Rosenstein’s bow, making the point that House conservatives are extremely serious about their demand for documentation from the Russia investigation so that the House can continue their own investigation led by Devin Nunes’ panel,” said CBS News Correspondent Bill Rehkopf.

As Rehkopf explained it, Meadows and Jordan had said, “Look, there’s a legal precedent for them to do this, because, you know, not responding to Congress in terms of the request for those documents constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor if you look at the technical end of it.”

But Meadows has now told reporters, “Look, what we think we’re going to do is we’re going to give the benefit of the doubt to DOJ. We’re going away for the August recess. If they can get us the documents by the end of that recess when we come back in September, all things, you know, are fine. But if not, then we may look to a contempt of Congress resolution before we go the impeachment route,” Rehkopf said.

A group of 11 House conservatives introduced the articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation because Sessions has recused himself.

Earlier Thursday in Boston, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had the “highest confidence in Rosenstein, and described him as "highly capable" when asked about the impeachment effort.

Sessions, a former Republican Senator from Alabama, suggested lawmakers should instead focus on "legal challenges," such as reforming the nation's immigration system.

"There are loopholes on our laws that are being exploited," he said. "Our enforcement officers' jobs are far more difficult than they need to be. Common sense legislation can make a big difference. That's where I'd like to see them focus their efforts."

House Speaker Paul Ryan also said he did not support the effort to impeach Rosenstein.

At a news conference Thursday, Ryan said he doesn't think lawmakers should be "cavalier" with the impeachment process.

He also said Rosenstein's back-and-forth with congressional Republicans over document requests doesn't rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that would warrant impeachment under the Constitution.

After Ryan voiced his disapproval, Meadows acknowledged that he didn't currently have the votes to pass the impeachment resolution. The House left Thursday afternoon for a five-week recess.

Meanwhile Thursday, Jordan said he is running to become House speaker next year, a long-shot bid underscoring conservatives' frustration that party leaders haven't aggressively pushed President Donald Trump's agenda.

Jordan, 54, is a founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has roughly 30 members among the chamber's current 236 Republicans.

“He is a very conservative member of Congress. He is supported by members of that caucus, and there are other Republicans who want to see Jordan accede to the Speaker’s chair, because he feels like he’s the one that can best muscle through President Trump’s agenda – a lot of which has gotten stymied on the House floor under Speaker Paul Ryan,” Rehkopf said.

House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), the second-ranking leader now, is viewed as the favorite to succeed retiring Speaker Ryan (R-Wisconsin). The No. 3 GOP leader, Rep. Scalise (R-Louisiana), who is close to many conservatives, also is seen as potential contender.

Seeming to cloud Jordan's race is a chapter from his coaching past at Ohio State that has resurfaced. The six-term congressman was interviewed recently by lawyers investigating allegations a now-dead team doctor sexually abused male athletes decades ago. Jordan has denied claims from some of the wrestlers that he knew of the abuse.

His candidacy appears to be aimed at rallying fellow conservatives and giving them leverage when the party picks its leadership team for the next Congress, perhaps influencing the speakership race or positioning Jordan for another top job.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)