It’s notable that although the articles cite offenses against the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, neither Goodlatte nor Trey Gowdy, his counterpart at Oversight, has signed on to the articles, choosing to work through other, likely more productive channels to pressure Rosenstein. Also notable is one of the co-sponsors: Jim Jordan, the Republican from Ohio who has been accused by at least eight former members of the Ohio State University wrestling team of overlooking sexual abuse that occurred while he was a coach. Jordan also announced Thursday that he plans to mount a long-shot bid for speaker in the next Congress.
Like Ryan earlier Thursday, Republican leaders in the House have tended to look on the Freedom Caucus with reactions ranging from eye rolling to fury. But now the caucus has found the White House in its corner. This is especially strange because Rosenstein is Trump’s own appointee as deputy attorney general and a lifelong Republican. One expects the White House to stand up for the executive branch and for its own appointees in a feud with Congress, but the White House has remained on the sidelines.
It’s a peculiar scrambling of roles. Presidential administrations are often excessively jealous of prerogatives and do stonewall Congress from legitimate oversight requests, so one might cheer Trump pushing deputies for more transparency. Yet the allegations against Rosenstein are transparently thin and political, and the Trump White House has fought transparency in nearly every other case.
The reason that the White House isn’t standing up for Rosenstein, of course, is that Trump has hated Rosenstein ever since the Mueller appointment, which the president rightly sees as a serious threat. He has suggested that the deputy attorney general is a Democrat. The White House has repeatedly floated the idea of firing Rosenstein, but it has not followed through—yet. Nonetheless, it’s those threats from the president that pose a much more serious danger to Rosenstein than the articles of impeachment.
Impeachment is analogous to an indictment in a criminal trial. The House serves as a grand jury, deciding whether to impeach, or formally charge, a public official, which occurs by simple majority. Once an official is impeached, he or she is tried in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required for removal.
A quick review of the 19 people who have been impeached by the House shows the charges against Rosenstein don’t really fit the pattern. Impeachment is a political process, and needn’t involve actual criminal offenses, though it often does. Most of the impeached are federal judges who were accused of abuses of power or corruption. The most recent case was Thomas Porteous, a federal judge who was charged with perjury and taking bribes, convicted, and removed in 2010. About a third of those impeached were acquitted. The most famous impeachment case is Bill Clinton’s; he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the House, but was acquitted in the Senate. The grounds on which the then-president was charged are far clearer than in the Rosenstein case: The deputy attorney general’s decisions are all standard procedure for the Justice Department, even if they are open to debate or bad calls.