Rod Rosenstein
Credit: Office of Public Affairs/Flickr

First they demanded a copy of the memo that initiated the FBI investigation into the Trump-Russia connection. As that was being processed, Trump’s chief enabler in Congress—Rep. Devin Nunes—threatened to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray if the document wasn’t forthcoming. The Department of Justice provided the House Intelligence Committee with a copy of the memo that simply redacted the name of a foreign country and the name of a foreign agent.

Next, Representatives Nunes, Goodlatte and Gowdy demanded a copy of the memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote about his meetings with Trump, and yesterday Goodlatte informed the House Judiciary Committee that he was going to issue a subpoena for the memos. The Washington Post is also reporting this:

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.

In other words, Meadows set up the meeting to make this threat: either hand over information that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, or face impeachment.

As I’ve suggested previously, this all looks like an attempt to set Rosenstein up to be fired by Trump. The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, agrees.

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.”

Rosenstein has asked for a few days to consider the request from Republicans. But the set-up is obvious in light of this:

Rosenstein also undercut the argument that there’s great urgency to release the Comey memos, noting that several top House officials (including Nunes and Gowdy) were already allowed to review the memos in a secure Justice Department facility last year.

The Deputy Attorney General has also pointed to this:

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.”

The possibility that all of this is being coordinated with the president is not only demonstrated by Trump’s tweets attacking his own Justice Department for their reluctance to comply with these demands. Following his meeting with Rosenstein this week, Meadows spoke personally with Trump, but declined to provide any information about their conversation.

When asked yesterday about the status of Mueller and Rosenstein, the president 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.” That tells us nothing about his intentions. It is also worth noting the many times Trump assured the press that he had no plans to fire Rex Tillerson or H.R. McMaster… before he fired them.

It seems obvious that Trump and his enablers have decided that firing Mueller would set off a constitutional crisis. But they’ve calculated that, if they can create an excuse to fire Rosenstein, his successor can not only limit the contours of the investigation, but block release of any findings from the special counsel. The clock on that one might be ticking if Mueller’s report on the obstruction of justice charges is imminent.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.