Rosenstein: Congress won’t extort Justice Department
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Tuesday lashed out at Republican allies of President Donald Trump who have drafted articles of impeachment against him, saying the Justice Department won’t be extorted or give in to threats.
Trump threw verbal volleys of his own, angrily protesting a leaked list of questions the Justice Department’s special counsel wants to ask him.
Rosenstein, speaking at a question-and-answer session at the Newseum, chided the lawmakers who have prepared the document by saying that “they can’t even resist leaking their own drafts” and that they lack “the courage to put their name on it.”
“I can tell you there have been 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,” Rosenstein said, in response to a question about news reports on the articles of impeachment.
“We’re going to do what’s required by the rule of law,” he added. “And any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.”
He did not elaborate on what he meant by threats, but some congressional Republicans have excoriated him for his oversight role of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Some lawmakers have blamed Rosenstein and other Justice Department officials for a secret surveillance warrant to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign associate that they say relied excessively on Democrat-funded political opposition research.
They’ve also criticized Rosenstein and the Justice Department for what they say is a slow response to lawmakers’ demands for documents, including about the now-resolved Hillary Clinton email probe.
Trump has also repeatedly lambasted Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose recusal from the Russia investigation laid the groundwork for the appointment of Mueller.
Rosenstein said that while the Justice Department supports congressional oversight, lawmakers must also understand that their duty is not to interfere with ongoing investigations.
“If we were to just open our doors to allow Congress to come and rummage through the files, that would be a serious infringement on the separation of powers,” he said.
“It might resolve a dispute today, but it would have negative repercussions in the long run, and we have a responsibility to defend the institution.”
The Washington Post on Monday reported the articles of impeachment from members of the House Freedom Caucus, a hard-right group of Republican lawmakers. A person familiar with the effort but who was not authorized to discuss it publicly confirmed it to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday.
One member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, tweeted after Rosenstein’s remarks: “If he believes being asked to do his job is ‘extortion,’ then Rod Rosenstein should step aside and allow us to find a new Deputy Attorney General — preferably one who is interested in transparency.”
Trump, meanwhile, focused his ire Tuesday on the leaked list of questions Mueller wants to ask him.
The president contended the list shows anew there was no crime or collusion with the Russians by his presidential campaign. But the questions suggest otherwise: The areas investigators want to focus on clearly include collusion and obstruction of justice.
The questions, some 49 in all, were published by The New York Times, which said they were compiled by Trump’s lawyers during negotiations with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators over a possible interview with the president himself.
The Times said it got the list from someone “outside Mr. Trump’s legal team.”
The leak was “so disgraceful,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “No questions on Collusion,” he said, “collusion that never existed.” That’s the idea that his presidential campaign collaborated with Russians who were trying to help him to the Oval Office. As for obstruction of the investigation after he took office, he scoffed, “It would be very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”
There’s still no word from the White House as to whether Trump will sit down to answer these questions or others for the investigation.
Although Mueller’s team has indicated to Trump’s lawyers that he’s not considered a “target” of the probe, investigators want to interview him about several episodes early in his term.
The bulk of those questions focus on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Trump’s relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he has angrily criticized for recusing himself from the Russia probe, and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. According to Comey, Trump encouraged Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn.
“Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?” reads one question.
Despite Trump’s dismissal of the idea, the list does appear to indicate that Mueller is looking into possible collusion or coordination with Russia. Some touch on Russian meddling in the U.S. election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated in any way with the Kremlin. In one question, Mueller asks what Trump knew about members of his campaign staff, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, reaching out to Moscow.
Another question asks what discussions Trump may have had regarding “any meeting” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still another asks what the president may have known about a possible attempt by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel with Russia before the U.S. inauguration.
At least two questions directly address tweets from the president.
One asks: “What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?” That references a tweet Trump posted after reports that Comey described a private dinner with the president in personal memos. Comey wrote in a memo that Trump repeatedly asked him for loyalty.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted.
Another question asks about tweets in which Trump suggested Comey should be investigated for the way he handled an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The questions also reference television interviews that Trump has given.
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