U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday rejected a move by fellow Republicans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, who oversees the federal probe of Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election.
"Do I support impeachment of Rod Rosenstein? No, I do not," said Ryan, whose stance could make it easier for other Republican members to oppose the measure.
A group of Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment to remove Rosenstein, escalating a fight over special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Republican President Donald Trump's campaign worked with Moscow to sway the 2016 presidential election.
Representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, who belong to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, joined nine other lawmakers in accusing Rosenstein of hiding investigative information from Congress, failure to comply with congressional subpoenas and other alleged misconduct.
No immediate action was expected on the move. The House was scheduled to leave on Thursday for a recess that extends until September. A House Republican aide said the two lawmakers were not trying to force quick action on the measure.
As well, even if the gambit were to succeed in the House, it would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, where the Republicans hold only a slim edge in seats.
Wants to be House Speaker
Earlier, Rosenstein's boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, expressed confidence in the career civil servant and took a swipe at the lawmakers pushing for his ouster.
"My deputy, Rod Rosenstein, is highly capable. I have the highest confidence in him," Sessions said during an appearance in Boston.
"What I would like Congress to do is to focus on some of the legal challenges that are out there," including illegal immigration, the attorney general added.
The former U.S. senator recused himself from matters that involve the Trump campaign, including the Russia probe, last year because of his role as a top adviser to the campaign.
Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, then appointed Mueller to lead the probe after President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Both Sessions and Rosenstein have been publicly blasted by Trump for their actions related to the Russia probe, which the president considers a "witch hunt."
Jim Jordan is shown during a House committe hearing on July 12. There is little overall appetite for the impeachment of Rod Rosenstein among Republicans, but one of the 11 in favour, Jordan, wants to be considered as the next House Speaker. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
Russia has denied interfering in the election, although Vladimir Putin admitted earlier this month he wanted Trump to win over Hillary Clinton.
Democrats criticized the Republican impeachment bid. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi noted that Rosenstein is a Republican appointee and said the Republican lawmakers were undermining the judicial system with a politically motivated action.
"The attack on Rosenstein of course is an attack on the Mueller investigation," Pelosi said at a news conference on Thursday.
Jordan, a firebrand from Ohio in office since 2007, announced on Thursday his intention to be considered as Ryan's successor as Speaker should the Republicans maintain control of the House in the November midterm elections.
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