Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus escalated their battle against the Justice Department on Wednesday, filing articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for what they allege is his failure to hand over documents to Congress about the Russia investigation.
However, it was not clear when — or if — the measure would come to the House floor for a vote. House members are scheduled to adjourn Thursday afternoon for a five-week recess.
Rosenstein oversees Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Rosenstein is in charge because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation because he served as an adviser to the Trump campaign.
With Attorney General Sessions’ recusal, Rod Rosenstein has been in charge of the Department of Justice as the agency has made every effort to obstruct legitimate attempts of Congressional oversight,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus. He filed the articles of impeachment along with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and nine other conservatives.
The Department of Justice has already handed over about 880,000 documents to Congress, but Meadows and his conservative allies are seeking more. Justice officials had no comment Wednesday night.
Meadows alleged that lawmakers have “caught” Justice officials hiding information from Congress, withholding relevant documents and ignoring congressional subpoenas.
“For nine months we’ve warned them consequences were coming, and for nine months we’ve heard the same excuses backed up by the same unacceptable conduct,” Meadows said. “Time is up and the consequences are here. It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency.”
The odds that Rosenstein will actually be impeached are slim. The extreme remedy has not been carried out against an executive branch employee — other than a president — in 122 years. It is reserved for what the Constitution calls “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The last executive branch employee who was impeached by the House was Secretary of War William Belknap, who was charged in 1876 with bribery “for accepting payments in exchange for making official appointments,” according to the House Office of the Historian. He was acquitted by the Senate a few months later.
The 11 conservatives who introduced the articles of impeachment on Wednesday represent a small but influential faction of the 236-member GOP majority. Even if they could get the House to impeach Rosenstein, the closely divided Senate is unlikely to follow suit.
“These articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein were filed in bad faith and show extraordinary lengths to which House Republicans will go to protect Trump,” tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “History will record these Members as willing accomplices in the most serious threat to the rule of law in a generation.”
Democrats have charged that House conservatives are targeting Rosenstein in an effort to undermine the larger Mueller investigation and protect President Trump. The president has repeatedly denounced the Russia probe as a “witch hunt.”
Last month, the House voted to approve a non-binding resolution “insisting” that the Justice Department hand over scores of documents about the ongoing Russia investigation.