On Wednesday, 11 members of the Republican House caucus filed articles of impeachment against Republican Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The articles alleged that Rosenstein had committed high crimes and misdemeanors by not appointing a second special counsel to investigate certain aspects of the 2016 election, over-redacting documents provided to House members, failing to send members a less-redacted version of a memo detailing the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, authorizing a FISA warrant renewal of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and failing to turn over specific documents related to the special counsel’s investigation of Russian election interference and any links to, or coordination with, members of the Trump campaign.
If you are confused by how those charges might meet the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard, then you’re in apparent agreement with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. On Thursday, the Republican described a potential impeachment vote in this case as “cavalier.” Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has since said that he would be putting any possible impeachment vote on hold for the time being and first push for contempt charges if document demands aren’t met.
Previously, Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, described the document production pressure campaign as a transparent effort by Donald Trump’s staunchest House allies to offer the president a pretext to fire Rosenstein and hamper or outright kill the Mueller investigation. (The deputy attorney general has oversight of that probe.) Schiff reiterated that argument in an interview with Slate on Thursday, blaming Ryan for his role in enabling these members. Here is a transcript of that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Jeremy Stahl: In your initial response to this impeachment announcement, you said this: “History will record these Members as willing accomplices in the most serious threat to the rule of law in a generation.” Could you please define the term “willing accomplices” here and expand on that notion a bit?
Adam Schiff: Before this administration we had a strong policy that the White House would not interfere in specific cases the Justice Department was handling. That prohibition was all the more important in any case in which the potential liability of the president was involved. We’ve seen a complete violation of that policy and trampling of that norm with the president continually attacking the independence of the Justice Department, attacking the special counsel, seeking to personally intervene in the provision of documents relevant to that investigation to the president’s own allies in Congress so that they can be provided to the president’s legal defense team, as Rudy Giuliani said he expects, but also so that a pretext could be created under which the president can fire people like Rod Rosenstein.*
The speaker has been unwilling to stand up to that, has been a willing participant in that, but the filing of these articles of impeachment is a new low in the assault on the independence of the Justice Department. It is the culmination of this escalating series of demands for documents by these allies of the president in Congress, what I describe as the “sycophantic caucus.” I’ve been telling the Justice Department for months now that they will never satisfy these members no matter what they give them, because what they’re interested in is having a fight. They are working hand in hand with the president to undermine the Justice Department.
You believe Speaker Paul Ryan has been unwilling to stand up to these members?
As his own members, including chairmen, have made inappropriate demands of the Justice Department, have released information and declassified it for partisan political purposes, and misrepresented it, the Speaker has endorsed all of that malfeasance.
Earlier Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this about the potential motives for the articles of impeachment filing: “What I’ve heard is Jim Jordan wants to take attention away from the scrutiny that he is under in Ohio. That could be part of it.”
(Jordan, who announced on Thursday that he’s running to replace Ryan as speaker, is under scrutiny over whether he knew about sexual abuse that occurred at Ohio State University while he was an assistant wrestling coach there three decades ago.)
Do you have any thoughts on that?
Well, you’d have to ask Jim Jordan about that. Certainly the filing of these articles has many motivations for the different members. In significant part it’s designed to give the president a pretext to fire Rosenstein. In part it’s designed to be a love letter to the president and show just what length these particular members are willing to go. In part it’s designed to distract from the lack of any legislative accomplishment, to energize their base. So there may be other personal motivations to distract from other problems, but you’d have to ask them about that.
In terms of the specific document requests that were mentioned in these articles of impeachment, can you talk about why those items might need to be protected?
The predominant reason is that many of these documents implicate sources and methods, and the disclosure of them could jeopardize these sources. That’s both in terms of protecting the sources, but also in terms of protecting investigative equities. Both of those priorities are jeopardized by what they’re doing.
*Correction, July 26, 2018: An earlier version of this post misspelled Rudy Giuliani’s last name.