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Rosenstein Dismisses Threats From Antagonists In Congress

May 2, 2018
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has a message for lawmakers who've been talking of removing him from his job.

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ROD ROSENSTEIN: Now, there are people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time. And I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.

INSKEEP: Rosenstein was speaking on the record at a public event in Washington. And it was not by chance that he said that in response to a question. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that some Republican members of Congress were drafting articles of impeachment for Rosenstein. NPR's Scott Detrow has been following this story. He's in our studios.

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. Just take this from the beginning for me. Why would some House Republicans be drafting articles of impeachment?

DETROW: Well, there's two tiers of frustration with Rosenstein from some House Republicans - more conservative members, a lot of them coming from the House Freedom Caucus, which is basically the Tea Party wing...

INSKEEP: Right.

DETROW: ...Of the House Republican Conference. The one hand is an ongoing back-and-forth about documents and information being handed over to the House, a lot of questions about the Department of Justice and how it's handled this investigation, the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server and basically the ongoing situation we're still in when it comes to the FBI and the Department of Justice and the 2016 presidential election.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remember the central thing happening here is that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has this investigation and Rosenstein, as the deputy attorney general, is the person who's supposed to oversee that because Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recused himself.

DETROW: And that is the broader issue here because this is allegedly a conversation about documents, but Rosenstein has become the central figure of frustration and anger from people like President Trump and his Twitter feed to his supporters in the House, like Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Because Rosenstein is the person who oversees the investigation, he is the person they are directing their fire at when they call this a witch hunt and things like that.

INSKEEP: Just to take the demand for documents at face value, these are demands relating to the origins - the beginning of the FBI investigation back in 2016. Has the Justice Department given explanations for why they have not given over every single document they've been asked for?

DETROW: It's a broad response that you hear a lot of times when it comes to these types of back-and-forth - that they need to do their work confidentially, that there are ongoing investigations, that there's a lot of stuff they just can't make public.

INSKEEP: So then you mentioned the identities of the individuals who were actually talking about impeachment and talking about people resigning. Mark Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus, after the reporting on this drafting of an impeachment article, said that if Rosenstein is not willing to give up documents or do his job - is how Meadow's phrased it in a tweet - he ought to resign. What are the connections between the most hard-charging Republicans and President Trump?

DETROW: So we should put this in context here because this is a leaked draft coming from one pocket of the House Republican Conference, not coming from leadership. House Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly said that Robert Mueller needs to be able to do his job. But this is important because it tells you how hard it would be for Congress to act on the bills we've been talking a lot about to protect Robert Mueller, for example, because this is clear that the energy on the House Republican side is not to protect Robert Mueller but rather to push back on this investigation; to try to wind down this investigation; to try to impeach, in the case of some members, one of the people in charge of it.

INSKEEP: You're saying that the leadership in Congress, including Republican leadership, has been supportive of continuing the investigation. But the House Republican rank and file would rather cut it off if they could possibly do that.

DETROW: Well, the Freedom Caucus is important because it can have a say over what the House does. It's not that they have the votes to pass bills on their own because they certainly don't. And we've seen that again and again, especially when it comes to funding issues. But they can block House leadership from doing what it wants. And this is a sizable chunk of the House Republicans saying we have big problems with Rod Rosenstein.

INSKEEP: Scott Detrow, one other thing I want to ask about. The Associated Press has some reporting relating to Robert Mueller's investigation. They've been talking with a former lawyer to President Trump. And the former lawyer says that there had been discussions of a subpoena to the president of the United States to compel him to testify - or compel him, rather, to speak to investigators would be a better way to phrase that. What's going on there?

DETROW: We've known for a while there's been an ongoing back-and-forth between Mueller and Trump's legal team. They have questions for Trump. They want answers. And in this conversation, based on this reporting, it seems they said - we can subpoena you, and that's an option we are considering. Not necessarily that this is what they're going to do - we don't know what they're going to do. But this is more filling in the blanks of that ongoing back-and-forth between Trump's team and Mueller's team.

INSKEEP: The question of when, if at all, the president would answer questions.

Scott, thanks very much.

DETROW: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.