Rosenstein survives latest clash with Congress
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The fight over obtaining the memos had become the latest front in a larger multi-pronged counterattack on leaders of the Justice Department and FBI, which many conservatives have worked to discredit as anti-Trump. Republicans are still demanding thousands of other documents from the Justice Department, promising more showdowns to come and leading Democrats to warn that Rosenstein could never satisfy them.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, warned that the release of the memos set a "disturbing precedent."
“[T]he Deputy Attorney General must be aware that no matter what he gives to these members of Congress, it will never be enough," he said in a statement. "House Republicans are spoiling to manufacture a conflict with the Justice Department that would give the President a pretext to get rid of Mueller or Rosenstein, heedless of the damage they are doing to our institutions.”
But at least for the moment, the delivery of the Comey memos—which almost immediately leaked to the media after their delivery to Republicans, who said they undermine parts of Comey’s narrative—appears to have averted a confrontation that some legal experts said could trigger a constitutional crisis.
Democrats appeared caught off guard by Rosenstein’s decision. They had been convinced that the GOP was setting a trap, demanding documents they believed Rosenstein couldn’t produce and thus creating a pretext for Trump to fire him.
That could have major implications for Mueller’s work. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia probe, Mueller reports to his deputy, Rosenstein, who has control over Mueller’s budget and must sign off on his activities. To date he has given Mueller broad leeway. By firing Rosenstein, Trump could install a replacement who could limit the Russia investigation’s size and scope.
Democrats had argued earlier in the week that Rosenstein should not provide Republicans with the memos.
"The Comey memos are key to the Special Counsel’s work," Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee said in an early Thursday statement. "Pursuant to long-standing Department policy and absent any satisfactory accommodation, the Department of Justice cannot simply hand over evidence that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation."
Instead, Rosenstein consulted with Mueller and decided to turn over the 15-page document to lawmakers. Within an hour, the records leaked to reporters and were posted online. DOJ declined to comment on the public disclosure of the memos.
While producing the memos may have earned Rosenstein a modicum of goodwill among House Republicans, it may be short-lived. Republicans who have demanded reams of documents from Justice Department say the Comey memos are just a sliver of the many thousands of records DOJ has yet to provide.
"Great, we got something that didn’t tell us a whole lot of new information," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another Trump ally who recently huddled with Rosenstein. "I always come back to the main point: Why is it always like pulling teeth?"
Republicans are seeking relevant tranches among 1.2 million records that the Justice Department’s inspector general combed during a review of the FBI’s decision-making in the Clinton investigation in 2016. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte issued a subpoena last month for the documents, and the FBI sought to ease tensions by doubling to 54 the number of employees working full time to vet and produce the records. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also announced that he had appointed a U.S. attorney, Utah’s John Huber, to assist in the review process.
Meadows and Jordan both said the gesture of providing the Comey memos was a start but far short of what Rosenstein will need to do in order to satisfy Republicans’ demands. Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees have sought thousands of records connected to the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as well as some connected to the Russia investigation. Whether Republicans relax their pressure campaign on Rosenstein may depend on whether he accelerates the document production.
"These are just four memos. We’ve got 40,000 some documents they say we need," Jordan said. "That to me is the test."
Added Meadows, "That same effort must now be deployed in getting the remaining documents delivered to Congress in order to compensate for the lack of supervision demonstrated over the last five months."