By Robert Costa, Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post–
Two of President Trump’s top legislative allies met with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein this week to press him for more documents about the conduct of law enforcement officials involved in the Russia probe and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, according to three people who were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussion.
Rosenstein’s meeting at his office Monday with Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) came days after Meadows, an influential Trump confidant, warned Rosenstein that he could soon face impeachment proceedings or an effort to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not satisfy GOP demands for documents.
Trump and Meadows spoke at some point after the meeting, the three people said, but they declined to share details of the exchange.
The visit by Meadows and Jordan — leading members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — is the latest sign of the rising tensions between Trump’s inner circle and the Justice Department. Rosenstein, a veteran prosecutor, is confronting a torrent of criticism from Republicans and an uncertain future that puts special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe at risk.
In recent days, Trump has seethed over the FBI’s raid last week on the home, office and hotel room of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, which Rosenstein approved. He has also taken note of conservative commentators who have called for Rosenstein to be fired, according to two administration officials who were not authorized to speak publicly. And Trump encouraged Rosenstein to work with lawmakers on their document requests in a White House meeting April 12, the officials said.
“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here,” Trump said at a news conference Wednesday when asked about Mueller and Rosenstein.
Meadows, in a brief interview Wednesday, acknowledged that he met with Rosenstein earlier in the week.
“We keep getting promises that Congress will get the documents it has requested, but there has been little action that has supported those promises,” Meadows said. He called the meeting the culmination of the “dissatisfaction I’ve expressed on a number of occasions with varying degrees of passion.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Meadows and other Republicans close to Trump, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), have long clashed with Rosenstein over documents related to the origin of the Russia investigation. Last week, in a move widely seen as an attempt to calm that rancor, the Justice Department gave Nunes access to a redacted document detailing the beginning of the probe — a day after Nunes suggested that he may try to impeach high-ranking FBI or Justice Department officials over their failure to produce what he wanted.
A Justice official said last week that the department had provided Nunes, ranking Democratic member Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) and all committee members access to the document with redactions “narrowly tailored to protect the name of a foreign country and the name of a foreign agent.”
Before that release, Trump sent a barrage of tweets accusing the Justice Department of “slow walking” document production and asked what the FBI and Justice officials “have to hide” on multiple fronts.
But the anger inside Trump’s orbit goes far beyond concerns about Mueller’s Russia probe and related documents and includes the Clinton investigation and memos from former FBI director James B. Comey about his interactions with Trump. On Wednesday evening, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) served notice to the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) that he intended to issue a subpoena for Comey’s memos, which have been turned over to Mueller.
Nadler, noting the memos were part of the special counsel investigation and likely could not be handed over to Congress, accused Goodlatte of seeking to create “an excuse” to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress. That possible motive, he added, might give the president “the pretext he has sought to replace Mr. Rosenstein with someone willing to do his bidding and end the special counsel’s investigation.”
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington refused to order the public disclosure of Comey’s memos in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by media organizations. The Justice Department has said the release would interfere with Mueller’s investigation.
Many critics of Trump say congressional Republicans are, fundamentally, attempting to build a case against Rosenstein in the hopes of closing the Mueller investigation — using the battle over documents to paper over their core aim of ending a probe that has become a political and legal burden for the president. Meadows contested that suggestion in the interview Wednesday.
“We’re looking at all DOJ and FBI decision-making as it relates to the lead-up to the 2016 election,” Meadows said. “I’ve sent multiple requests to the deputy attorney general, and he knows that my motivations are all about doing the proper oversight, doing my job for my constituents.”
In a 2000 letter to Congress, Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben noted that “Congress has a clearly legitimate interest in how the department enforces statutes.” But, he said, “the department’s long-standing policy is to decline to provide congressional committees with access to open law enforcement files.”
Still, lawmakers over the past year have been given access to law enforcement records that include the classified surveillance warrant application and subsequent renewals targeting former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. It is unclear whether the Page investigation is ongoing.
The Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email investigation also remains a Republican target. On Wednesday, several House Republicans sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding criminal referrals for a number of prominent figures, including the former secretary of state and Comey.
Goodlatte last month subpoenaed the Justice Department for records collected by its inspector general in his probe of how the FBI handled its investigation of Clinton’s private email server. That subpoena also covered documents related to an FBI internal report that recommended the firing of the bureau’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe last month, citing in part the FBI report and the inspector general’s finding that McCabe “lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.
McCabe has alleged that the move was an attempt to slander him and undermine Mueller’s probe.
Meadows and Jordan have made their pursuit of documents related to these various probes a rallying cry and legislative cause, often showcasing their loyalty to Trump in the process.
Speaking Monday on CNN, Jordan said he has never heard Trump lie. “He’s always been square with me,” he said. “That’s for darn sure.”
At the Capitol last week, Meadows told reporters that he was ready to draft articles of impeachment for Rosenstein or push to hold the Justice official in contempt of Congress — and said congressional Republicans were willing to mount an aggressive campaign on Trump’s behalf.
“Contempt of Congress is really at the doorstep of Rod Rosenstein more than anybody else,” Meadows said.
He called contempt “the first step,” to be followed by “other tools” if the Justice Department did not produce the documents requested.
“It is certainly on the path to impeachment,” Meadows said.
Congressional Republican leaders, meanwhile, have shown limited interest in taking legislative steps to protect Mueller’s investigation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that Trump will not fire Mueller and that he would not hold a vote on a bipartisan measure proposed last week to protect him. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), has pledged to hold a vote on the bill this month.
“We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell told Fox News.
Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.