Hard-line Trump allies in the House are trying to impeach Rod Rosenstein. Here's what you need to know

  • Eleven House Republicans introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, accusing the No. 2 Justice Department official of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
  • Rosenstein is being accused of failing to recuse himself despite what they describe as an "inherent conflict of interest" through his role in renewing a secret court application for federal authorities to monitor ex-Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a news conference on Thursday he does not support impeaching Rosenstein.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appears with U.S. President Donald Trump at a roundtable on immigration and the gang MS-13 at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, May 23, 2018.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appears with U.S. President Donald Trump at a roundtable on immigration and the gang MS-13 at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, May 23, 2018.

Eleven House Republicans have introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, accusing the No. 2 Justice Department official of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

The move on Wednesday night was led by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, another leader in the group. Both are staunch supporters of President Donald Trump.

The action signals a sharp escalation in the ongoing tensions between Trump's allies in Congress and Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

It also threatens to further divide factions within the Republican Party, as key GOP leaders including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy decline to support the motion.

Here's what you need to know:

Rosenstein accused of 'dereliction of duty'

Rosenstein is being accused of failing to recuse himself despite what his Republican opponents describe as an "inherent conflict of interest" through his role in renewing a secret court application for federal authorities to monitor ex-Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

The impeachment filing says Rosenstein's "conduct in authorizing the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] surveillance at issue in the joint congressional investigation makes him a fact witness central to the ongoing investigation of potential FISA abuse."

Meadows and Jordan said his failure to recuse, as well as the Justice Department's decision not to appoint a second special counsel, constituted a "dereliction of duty."

The filing also says Rosenstein failed to hand over certain documents requested by congressional Republicans investigating that surveillance warrant on Page, which some have alleged shows potential abuse and politicization of the secret surveillance courts.

It also accuses the Justice Department of attempting to conceal information by unnecessarily blacking out certain document passages, as well as "intentionally" hiding the origins of a Hillary Clinton campaign-funded research document in the initial FISA application on Page.

That document, a dossier alleging many salacious and unverified connections between Trump and the Kremlin, was produced by intelligence-gathering firm Fusion GPS, which was hired by a Democratic lawyer reportedly acting on the Clinton campaign's behalf.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Articles aren't 'privileged'

A House Republican aide, who declined to be named, told CNBC on Thursday that the articles of impeachment against Rosenstein are not being handled as "privileged" at this point, although the aide noted "that could change."

But Meadows himself appeared to shoot down the possibility a few hours later, telling reporters on Capitol Hill that he would not introduce impeachment articles in a privileged fashion.

NBC News reported that "having a nonprivileged motion" means Republican leadership in the House will decide whether the motion comes up for a floor vote — if at all.

With some Republicans already signaling their opposition to the motion, the esoteric difference between privileged and nonprivileged status could play a significant role in the attempt to impeach Rosenstein.

Even if Republican leadership did support the impeachment resolution, its chances for passage would be extremely slim, according to David Barker, professor of government at American University.

"It would take a majority in the House and a 2/3 majority in the Senate" to impeach Rosenstein, Barker said in an email, "which would never happen" considering Republicans hold a razor-thin 51-vote majority in the Senate.

"I believe it is dead in the water. I can't imagine Ryan bringing this to a vote — particularly since he has now publicly opposed it," Barker said.

Republicans aren't all on board

While Jordan and Meadows have gathered a group of nine other GOP lawmakers to co-sponsor their motion, not all House Republicans support Rosenstein's impeachment.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a news conference Thursday he does not back impeaching Rosenstein.

"I do't think that this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors," Ryan said.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a critic of Rosenstein who has been deeply involved in the House investigations into the surveillance warrants on Page, suggested Wednesday night that impeachment was not the best option to pursue.

Gowdy said, "Impeachment is a punishment, not a remedy" shortly before the motion was introduced.

"If you are looking for documents, then you want compliance, and you want whatever moves you toward compliance," he added.

The defection of Gowdy, in particular, from his Republican colleagues is noteworthy. He is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has in the past joined other House committees in criticizing Rosenstein and calling for a second special counsel to investigate Page's FISA warrant.

He also was the only member of the House Intelligence Committee to read the primary documents from the secret surveillance court that supplied the source material for an incendiary memo pushed by Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., in February.

After that memo was made public, Gowdy reaffirmed that he was "100 percent confident" in Mueller.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said in a tweet Wednesday night that he "does not agree" with the articles of impeachment.

Democrats defend Rosenstein

Democratic leaders from both chambers of Congress quickly lined up to take swings at the impeachment resolution.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, a vocal defender of the special counsel and the House Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, blasted the members who proffered the motion as "willing accomplices in the most serious threat to the rule of law in a generation."

"There are no grounds for House Republicans to impeach Rod Rosenstein," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "Trying to remove Rod Rosenstein from the Justice Department for failing to disclose sources, methods and evidence from an open criminal investigation is beyond the pale. This is partisan nonsense. It's dangerous for the rule of law and it needs to stop."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., went as far as to suggest that Jordan is pushing impeachment to distract from allegations that he ignored reports of alleged sexual abuse when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University.

"I don't know, but 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," Pelosi said at a news conference Thursday.

Jordan has adamantly denied he ever heard allegations of sexual abuse during his tenure at the university.

Pelosi also suggested that Republicans could be trying to hurt Rosenstein simply as a way to harm the Mueller probe.

Impeachment follows indictment

The Republicans' motion arrived less than two weeks after Rosenstein announced that 12 more Russian nationals would be indicted as part of the special counsel's investigation into Russian election meddling and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.

The 12 Russians were accused of hacking Democrats' political organizations, as well as campaign employees and volunteers for Clinton's presidential campaign.