Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will face a high-stakes test on Thursday afternoon when he meets with Republican lawmakers seeking information on the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
Rosenstein will meet with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) at noon at the Justice Department to discuss their requests for thousands of documents and information they have sought from the DOJ and FBI for months.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will also participate, as will FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and additional FBI and DOJ briefers and staff, according to the DOJ.
At the request of Democrats, Rosenstein will host another meeting two hours later with the “Gang of Eight” — the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Gowdy.
The meetings were arranged by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, after reports last week revealed the FBI used “at least one” informant to spy on the Trump campaign weeks before it said it began its investigation.
President Trump on Sunday blasted off a tweet demanding that the Justice Department investigate whether the DOJ or the FBI infiltrated or surveilled his campaign for political purposes.
This will not be Rosenstein and Congress’s first stand-off. Nunes and other members of Congress have previously threatened Rosenstein with being held in contempt of Congress and articles of impeachment for refusing to hand over requested documents.
However, those stiff measures have been avoided by promises to produce more information, or steps that have provided lawmakers with more — but not full — access to the requested information.
But there are signs that Nunes and lawmakers are getting fed up – particularly as anonymous current and former law enforcement officials have leaked to media outlets what they have refused to provide members of Congress.
“Members will not be happy if the documents aren’t turned over,” an aide to Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) told Breitbart News on Tuesday. “We’re reaching a key moment in time here.”
And unlike in previous standoffs, Nunes and GOP lawmakers have the president clearly on their side. President Trump praised the California Republican as “courageous” when he spoke at CIA Director Gina Haspel’s swearing-in earlier this week.
Allies of the president are also urging him to fire Rosenstein — and some predict that if he does not comply with lawmakers’ requests, he could be finished.
Former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon told the BBC’s Newsnight on Wednesday that the deputy attorney general “either … is going to take the direct order of the President of the United States or I think Rosenstein will be fired.”
Bannon and other Trump loyalists have been pressing the president to adopt a more aggressive approach towards the special counsel investigation.
GOP lawmakers are also criticizing Rosenstein’s decision to have the DOJ inspector general investigate the FBI for any potential wrongdoing.
“I think that it’s a mistake to have the Department of Justice investigating themselves, I think there needs to be an independent special prosecutor on this question,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said Wednesday on Sirius XM’s Breitbart News Daily.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) also suggested Rosenstein should not be overseeing the special counsel investigation, which includes the question of whether Trump obstructed the investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey.
“Can Rod Rosenstein oversee an investigation of potential obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey, when he’s the one who wrote the memo for firing James Comey? That’s where we’re at,” Jordan told CNN’s New Day on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, more than two dozen lawmakers introduced a resolution calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the DOJ and the FBI’s actions during the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations.
“I’m not a big fan of special prosecutors, but you’ve had Trey Gowdy, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, you’ve had the majority leader, the majority whip of the House all call for a second special counsel,” said Gaetz, a co-sponsor of the legislation and member of the Judiciary Committee.
“And now we need Speaker Ryan to join that call and to put our legislation on the floor that was introduced yesterday calling for a special counsel, and ultimately I think that that’s the way to demonstrate to the president we’re serious about cleaning this up, and we think he was treated unfairly,” he said.