Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is in charge of the Russia investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. Donald Trump would like to fire Rosenstein and he has people willing to collude with him in that effort. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, ostensibly for reasons unrelated to the Russia investigation. As Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly likes to say, this is a transparent load of complete B.S.

The gambit works like this. Key committee chairs in the House ask for unredacted documents from the Department of Justice. These documents are sensitive, involve ongoing investigations and of a type that department policy says should not ordinarily be delivered to Congress, especially in unredacted form. The goal is to get the DOJ to either deny their requests or to fulfill them in anything less than the manner in which they have been demanded. This lack of full cooperation them becomes the basis for impeaching the leader of the Russia investigation and replacing him with someone who will protect the president.

So far, Rosenstein has already capitulated to their demands once, but that wasn’t what they actually wanted him to do so they are back to take a second bite at the apple. Yesterday, Rosenstein drew a line in the sand.

“There have been people that have been making threats, publicly and privately, 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 on Tuesday during an appearance at the Newseum in Washington. “Any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job. We have a responsibility and we take an oath. That’s the whole point.”

The president was ready to pounce.

What you’ll notice is that even though Rosenstein seemed, yesterday, to be referring to the impeachment threats from Republican members of the House of Representatives when he said “people…have been making threats, publicly and privately, against me for quite some time,” it was just as true about the president of the United States. Trump threatened Rosenstein this morning in that tweet.

When Rosenstein said he won’t be extorted by threats from “anyone,” that includes President Trump.  He serves in the president’s administration, but he also took an oath to protect the Constitution.

Trump desperately needs a reason to fire Rosenstein, and he’s settled on his refusal to turn over unredacted documents to Trump’s allies in the House.  They thought Rosenstein would walk into their trap in early April but he made a calculated retreat.

The Justice Department on Wednesday gave House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes access to a redacted document detailing the origin of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election — a day after Nunes suggested publicly he might impeach top FBI or Justice Department officials over their failure to produce what he wanted.

But the House kept pushing until Rosenstein felt forced to take a stand.

The Justice Department informed Meadows and other Republican lawmakers earlier this week that it would not turn over [an unredacted copt of the] memo Rosenstein drafted detailing the scope of Mueller’s investigation, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The scope memo is connected to an active investigation, so is not something that would generally be turned over.

The whole effort here is choreographed. The White House and key committee chairs and members of the House Freedom Caucus are acting in concert. And it’s all a naked and transparent effort to obstruct justice. It’s being done brazenly, unapologetically, and in plain sight. Perhaps this is why Ty Cobb, who has consistently counseled cooperation with the investigation, just quit his job as Trump’s lawyer.

The cooperative phase is ending, and the constitutional crisis phase will now commence.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at