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Washington — Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of west Michigan has quit the conservative House Freedom Caucus following his statements that President Donald Trump's conduct warrants impeachment. 

An aide confirmed late Monday that Amash stepped down from the group, which he co-founded in 2015. He said earlier this year that he'd stopped regularly attending meetings

"I have the highest regard for them, and they're my close friends," Amash told CNN. "I didn't want to be a further distraction for the group." 

Members of the group, who are among Trump's staunchest defenders in Congress, had disagreed with Amash's stance on impeachment and criticized him after he became the first Republican lawmaker to break with Trump after special counsel Robert Mueller's report. 

GOP leaders and Trump himself dismissed Amash, trying to paint him as a marginal member of the Republican conference. Still, Amash hasn't let up on his commentary related to potential obstruction of justice. 

Amash on Friday posted another series of statements on Twitter, saying Trump and his allies are "trying to excuse" his efforts to obstruct the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election by "alleging problems with elements of it and claiming, without basis, that they undermine Mueller’s obstruction analysis."

Amash, 39, is a libertarian Republican in his fifth term representing the Grand Rapids area and has long eschewed partisan loyalties. 

He recently told The Detroit News he plans to run for reelection to his House seat in 2020, despite two primary challengers who filed to run against him. 

Amash also has not ruled out running for the White House on the Libertarian ticket but, as he says, he generally doesn't rule things out.

Amash and several colleagues formed the Freedom Caucus in an effort to push back against Republican leadership, pressing for a greater voice in legislative proceedings for House members often left out of deliberations, debates and amendments.

As the caucus grew in numbers to about three dozen, it gained the ability to block legislation from passing the Republican-led House and played a role in pressuring former House Speaker John Boehner to step down. 

The dynamics shifted when Republicans lost the House majority and then a GOP president took over the White House, leaving fewer "process" disputes where the caucus could control the outcome, Amash said in an April interview with The News.

"I think a lot of them at first wanted to find a way to help the president get some of his agenda through, and they were willing, therefore, to let a lot of things go that they would have complained about in the past," Amash said.

He also described members of the caucus as his "good friends." 

"We obviously have some differences — I think that's been covered — but we're good friends, and I have more respect for them than I do for most people in Congress," Amash said. 

"In some sense, they are doing just what a lot of people in the party are doing. They tend to be more high-profile figures, so maybe they get a lot of attention," he added. 

The Freedom Caucus includes Chairman Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who are two of Trump's most vocal defenders on Capitol Hill. 

"But, you know, the entire party — from a public standpoint, at least, you know, public officials — is defending the president at every turn, and they're doing the same thing," Amash said.

"I don't think in that respect, they're doing anything that most Republican elected officials aren't doing."

mburke@detroitnews.com 

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