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Robert Costa’s Notebook: What’s next for Rod Rosenstein?

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By Robert Costa

One of the big stories of the week is the uncertain fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel probe of Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election. While President Donald Trump noted, somewhat vaguely, at a news conference on Wednesday that Rosenstein still has his job, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department remains a target for many congressional Republicans. 

Why does this matter? If Rosenstein is removed from office, which the president could do with his executive authority, the Russia investigation is at risk of being ruptured or shuttered by the person chosen to take his place.

In other words, Special Counsel Robert Mueller could find himself dealing with a new boss who wants to reshape or narrow the scope of the ongoing investigation — or be fired himself — should Rosenstein leave. That possibility has alarmed most Democrats and some Republicans who worry about a possible constitutional crisis if the investigation is curbed.

Knowing the context, you can understand why tracking Rosenstein is an important part of the coverage these days for reporters covering the Russia investigation. 

And this week, I picked up on a new undercurrent during my conversations with sources on Capitol Hill: Rosenstein’s ability to hold on to his position may now hinge on how he handles a growing outcry among GOP lawmakers about the production of documents related to the Russia probe, along with other documents on everything from the Hillary Clinton private email server investigation to former FBI director James Comey. 

It’s a lot to digest — an “inside baseball” story about federal document disclosure, subpoenas, and redactions. But it’s an important story because various Trump’s allies in Congress are building a case against Rosenstein and warning of impeachment measures or holding him in contempt of Congress.

Is this squabble just about the documents? Or, is the Russia probe hovering over it all? And could the president move on Rosenstein if lawmakers call for his firing?

It depends on who you ask.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) argued in my article in The Washington Post this week that the GOP push is an “excuse” to eventually give Trump “the pretext he has sought to replace Mr. Rosenstein with someone willing to do his bidding and end the special counsel’s investigation.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump confidant, insisted to me this week that he is holding Rosenstein to account because he is frustrated with the Justice Department’s level of disclosure on several fronts and is only “doing the proper oversight” of the executive branch.

Those efforts included a trip this week by Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, to the Justice Department to meet with Rosenstein and voice their concerns.

“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here,” Trump said Wednesday when asked about Mueller and Rosenstein.

They are, indeed. But what’s next? We’ll dig into that question and others at the table.