News & Politics

Was Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein Telling the Truth When He Denied Threatening GOP Staffers?

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies during a United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 28, 2018. (Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Republicans on Capitol Hill are questioning the veracity of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month regarding threats he allegedly made against congressional staff in January.

Twelve days ago Rosenstein denied under oath that he had threatened to retaliate against House Intelligence Committee aides, contradicting not only the claims of the staffers, but a DOJ spokesman’s statements to multiple news outlets.

This came after a June 12 Fox News report in which Catherine Herridge reported that Rosenstein had threatened to subpoena the records of staffers on the GOP-led committee, citing multiple e-mails from congressional staff to the House of Representatives’ Office of General Counsel following the January meeting with Rosenstein:

“The DAG [Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein] criticized the Committee for sending our requests in writing and was further critical of the Committee’s request to have DOJ/FBI do the same when responding,” the committee’s then-senior counsel for counterterrorism Kash Patel wrote to the House Office of General Counsel. “Going so far as to say that if the Committee likes being litigators, then ‘we [DOJ] too [are] litigators, and we will subpoena your records and your emails,’ referring to HPSCI [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] and Congress overall.”

A second House committee staffer at the meeting backed up Patel’s account, writing: “Let me just add that watching the Deputy Attorney General launch a sustained personal attack against a congressional staffer in retaliation for vigorous oversight was astonishing and disheartening. … Also, having the nation’s #1 (for these matters) law enforcement officer threaten to ‘subpoena your calls and emails’ was downright chilling.”

News leaked out about the confrontation almost immediately — with some calling it a potential abuse of power — although most of the media completely ignored the bombshell story.

According to Molly Hemingway at The Federalist, the Department of Justice essentially confirmed the allegations, telling reporters that Rosenstein did in fact “put them on notice to retain relevant emails and text messages, and he hopes they did so.”

The Justice spokesperson said Rosenstein “never threatened anyone in the room with a criminal investigation,” which hadn’t been claimed, but that the “Deputy Attorney General was making the point—after being threatened with contempt—that as an American citizen charged with the offense of contempt of Congress, he would have the right to defend himself, including requesting production of relevant emails and text messages and calling them as witnesses to demonstrate that their allegations are false.”

A DOJ official told Fox News that when Rosenstein returned to the United States from a work trip, he would “request that the House General counsel conduct an internal investigation of these Congressional staffers’ conduct.” (Another threat!)

Rosenstein categorically denied that he had ever threatened to obtain the internal e-mails and communications of congressional staffers in a heated exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan on June 28:

“Did you threaten staffers on the House Intelligence Committee?” Jordan demanded. “Media reports indicate you did.”
Rosenstein immediately denied the claim, saying: “Media reports are mistaken.”

“Sometimes,” Jordan replied. “This is what they [the staffers] said: ‘Having the nation’s number one law enforcement officer threaten to subpoena your calls and emails is downright chilling.'”

Rosenstein denied the accusation and pointed out that “there is no way to subpoena phone calls,” drawing laughter from those in the room. The DAG, of course, understood that Jordan was referring to phone records, which are subpoenaed all the time.

The disagreement may turn out to be a misunderstanding on the part of the staffers over how the DOJ would obtain their records. The DOJ spokesman told Fox News that they “have no process to obtain such records without congressional approval.”

Be that as it may, the staffers clearly took Rosenstein’s comments regarding the collection of their emails and phone records as a threat. Moreover, Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intel Committee, recently told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Republican staffers have felt threatened by Rosenstein on many other occasions as well.

The MSM spun the exchange as one that went badly for Rep. Jordan. At The Federalist, Hemingway reported:

Liberal journalists such as the Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake claimed that “Rod Rosenstein shuts down Jim Jordan over Fox News report,” writing that “On Thursday, Jordan again found himself getting shut down by one of the embattled leaders of the Justice Department — this time in somewhat embarrassing fashion.”

Whatever happened back in January, it seems to help explain why the relationship between the DOJ and the Republicans trying to conduct oversight on the House Intelligence Committee has broken down.

“A deputy attorney general does not make subpoena threats lightly. This is not the norm to say the least,” Tom Dupree, the former principal deputy assistant attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, told Fox News. “It’s hard to tell whether [Rosenstein] was sending a message to back off, or whether he was just trying to illustrate how invasive he considered the demands from Congress. But either way, it is a clear signal that the relationship is fractured, and it’s not clear how things will get repaired.”