- House Republicans are furious with the Justice Department and are threatening to hold deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the agency doesn’t respond to its subpoena requests.
- When either chamber of Congress votes to hold an official in contempt, the matter is referred to the DOJ for criminal prosecution.
- In other words, if the House votes to hold the deputy attorney general in contempt, “They’d essentially be referring Rosenstein to himself,” said a DOJ veteran.
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House Republicans are furious.
The latest source of their frustration is the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) refusal to turn over additional classified documents related to two politically charged FBI investigations.
One is the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow. The second is the now-concluded probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
At the center of the controversy is deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who has become a bete noire for Republicans. Many of them echo claims from the White House that Rosenstein is dragging his feet on their subpoena requests in order to hide any evidence of agency misconduct.
In recent days, House Republicans have signalled a willingness to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the DOJ doesn’t respond to their requests by the end of the week. The move’s possibility has attracted significant media coverage and speculation about what it could mean for the DOJ if its No. 2 official is held in contempt.
In all likelihood, it would mean very little.
When either chamber of Congress votes to hold an official in contempt, the case goes to the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC for criminal prosecution.
In other words, if the House votes to hold the deputy attorney general in contempt, “They’d essentially be referring Rosenstein to himself for prosecution,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ.
It wouldn’t be the first time a scenario like this has occurred.
House Republicans voted 255-67 to hold then-attorney general Eric Holder in contempt of Congress in June 2012 when the DOJ refused to release documents the House Oversight Committee had requested. He was the first attorney general in US history to be held in contempt, and the DOJ declined to prosecute the matter.
The last time any executive branch official was actually prosecuted for contempt was in 1983, when Rita Lavelle, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, was indicted on perjury charges.
In the event that Rosenstein is referred to the DOJ for prosecution and the department does not pursue the case – which, in all likelihood, it won’t – then congressional Republicans could pursue civil charges against him.
But as of now, Cramer said, “They’re just shaking their fists and making a lot of noise.”
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