WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise endorsed an effort by right-wing Republicans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Scalise told Fox News Thursday morning that he'd vote to impeach Rosenstein and called the effort "one more tool" for conservatives angry over the Justice Department's reluctance to release certain documents from Mueller's politically sensitive ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Scalise is the highest-ranking Republican to put his weight behind the effort by 11 members of the House Freedom Caucus who filed articles of impeachment against Rosenstein on Wednesday. Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican, hasn't signed onto the articles of impeachment himself.
"If Rosenstein wants to comply and turn over the documents, we won't have this conversation," Scalise said in the interview.
Scalise added his contention that House Republicans have "exposed" misconduct at the FBI — a point of dispute — and are now trying to "root out bad apples" in the Justice Department.
Hours after Scalise's comments to Fox News, House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the impeachment effort, saying he'd like to see the Justice Department turn over the documents but that Rosenstein's reluctance to do so doesn't amount to the "high crimes and misdemeanors" worthy of impeachment.
Ryan's remarks effectively put the kibosh on the effort for now, ensuring there'd be no vote on the impeachment resolution before members of the House of Representatives leave Washington Friday for the August recess.
Freedom Caucus leaders Reps. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, could make moves to force a vote on the resolution when lawmakers return to the U.S. Capitol in September. It's unclear whether they'd be able to line up enough support behind their controversial efforts.
Democratic critics of President Donald Trump have sharply criticized the efforts by House GOP conservatives to obtain documents from Mueller's probe as a politically motivated effort to undermine the investigation into Trump's campaign.
It's rare, if not unprecedented, for Congress to demand documents from an ongoing federal criminal investigation. The Justice Department usually maintains a high degree of secrecy around its inquiries.
Mueller has released little information about his work publicly outside of the allegations contained in federal criminal indictments against a handful former Trump campaign aides — including Michael Flynn, the president's former national security advisor — and dozens of alleged Russian hackers.
Jordan and the other Republicans who introduced the resolution have criticized Rosenstein and Justice Department officials for not being responsive enough as House committees have requested documents related to the beginning of the Russia investigation and a closed investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The five articles charge Rosenstein of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for failing to produce information to the committees, even though the department has already provided lawmakers with more than 800,000 documents, and of signing off on what some Republicans say was improper surveillance of a Trump adviser.
The resolution also goes directly after Rosenstein for his role in the ongoing Mueller investigation, criticizing him for refusing to produce a memo that outlines the scope of that investigation and questioning whether the investigation was started on legitimate grounds. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign was in any way involved.
Other Republicans who've criticized Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray — including House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina — expressed skepticism about impeachment efforts.
“Impeachment is a punishment, it’s not a remedy,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy said Wednesday. “If you are looking for documents, then you want compliance, and you want whatever moves you toward compliance.”
In a joint statement, the top Democrats on the House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform and intelligence committees called the move a “panicked and dangerous attempt to undermine an ongoing criminal investigation in an effort to protect President Trump as the walls are closing in around him and his associates.”
So far, the special counsel has charged 32 people and three companies, including four Trump campaign advisers.
Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Adam Schiff of California said Rosenstein “stands as one of the few restraints against the overreaches of the president and his allies in Congress.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.