Politics

What Could Have Been: 3 Expectations for Rod Rosenstein’s Canceled Meeting With Lawmakers

Quick turnaround time for the transcript, a possible new investigative precedent for the panel, and angry House conservatives

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will meet with lawmakers behind closed doors Wednesday regarding comments he allegedly made about secretly recording President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated | After weeks of contentious back-and-forth between House GOP lawmakers and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general was finally set to answer some questions about comments he allegedly made about covertly recording President Donald Trump — until a last-minute postponement, that is, put off the highly anticipated sit-down. 

Rosenstein, who appears to have patched up his relationship with the president after reportedly preparing late last month to tender his resignation, was to field questions from just four leaders on the joint Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform panel — Republican Chairmen Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy and Democratic ranking members Jerrold Nadler and Elijah Cummings.

But that interview was abruptly postponed on Tuesday evening by Goodlatte and Gowdy, who said there were so many questions they were expected to field from members of both committees, that it just wasn't feasible to continue at the current time. 

“The Committees are unable to ask all questions of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein within the time allotted for tomorrow’s transcribed interview, therefore, the interview will be postponed. Mr. Rosenstein has indicated his willingness to testify before the Judiciary and Oversight Committees in the coming weeks in either a transcribed interview or a public setting. We appreciate his willingness to appear and will announce further details once it has been rescheduled,” Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote in a statement.

Much of the interview was expected to focus on a New York Times report that alleged Rosenstein said he wanted to secretly record Trump and had talked about trying to force him out of office by invoking the 25th Amendment.

Rosenstein has denied that he ever suggested such a thing. Others present in the alleged meeting have said the deputy AG offered the suggestion sarcastically.

Although it is moot for the time being, here were three expectations for Rosenstein’s meeting with lawmakers before the postponement. 

1. Expect the transcript in roughly a week’s time

It should not take long for the intelligence community to scrub any classified information from the transcript of Rosenstein’s interview before it is released publicly — possibly within a week, according to one committee aide with knowledge of the process.

The only other person who was to be present for the interview besides Rosenstein and the four committee leaders was to have been a court reporter.

Even though the interview was to be behind closed doors, Rosenstein, per Justice Department protocol, was not going to comment about ongoing investigations at the DOJ, including special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s probe into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s inner circle of campaign and White House advisers.

2. Expect future witnesses to request a similarly closed forum for their testimony

Leaks to the press by members of the joint panel have been “a serious problem with our investigation,” Goodlatte said in a Fox News interview Monday previewing the meeting.

The Judiciary chairman from Virginia stressed that Rosenstein did not demand the closed, four-lawmaker forum. It was Goodlatte’s and Gowdy’s proposal.

Gowdy told Roll Call last month that he understands why some witnesses might be reluctant to “abide by confidentiality while many of the members do not do so.”

Some members have promptly broken the confidentiality agreements of the meetings when questioned by reporters waiting outside committee room doors.

Glenn Simpson, the founder of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which compiled the infamous dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia, pleaded the Fifth regarding testifying in front of the panel.

Simpson’s lawyers have drawn parallels between his view of Republicans’ investigative tactics— leaking portions of private testimony without releasing full transcripts — and Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for covert communists in the State Department, U.S. Army and Truman administration in the 1950s.

Former FBI Director James B. Comey declined a private interview with lawmakers, taking the extraordinary step of requesting a public hearing instead.

3. Expect House conservatives to continue to be livid

The leading House conservatives on the panel, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and speaker candidate Jim Jordan of Ohio, had expressed outrage over the arrangement for Rosenstein’s testimony, grousing that they and others are being shut out of the interview process.

Both Meadows and Jordan had accused the lawmakers leading the panel of setting a “double standard” for Rosenstein by allowing the deputy AG to meet with a limited group of questioners.

“Everyone else has come and talked to the task force in a transcribed interview setting,” Ben Williamson, Meadows’ spokesman, said Tuesday. “Why should [Rosenstein] be getting a different set-up?”

Goodlatte has said he and Gowdy were going to ask Rosenstein any questions members of the panel submit to them before the meeting Wednesday. But that promise seems to have added to heavy a lift to the schedule, and the interview was abruptly postponed.

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