The group of House conservatives who have been Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's sharpest critics are steamed over plans for Rosenstein to be interviewed next week in a classified setting that excludes them, and they plan to push back to try to change the agreement.
Rosenstein will be interviewed in a classified setting next week by four lawmakers: House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, Judiciary ranking Democrat Jerry Nadler and Oversight ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. No staff or other rank-and-file members will be inside for the interview.
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While the committees said Rosenstein will be under oath and a transcript would be released after it was scrubbed by the intelligence community, several House Republicans say the arrangement is allowing Rosenstein to avoid proper oversight.
"It should not happen the way it was talked about (Thursday). That is completely unacceptable for those of us who have been involved in this issue now," said Rep. Jim Jordan, who plans to run to be the next Republican House leader. "The idea that it's just going to happen with two members from the Republican Party, just two members from the Democrat Party, in a classified setting, which means one thing — the American people will never know what's said."
The Ohio Republican said he's expressed his unhappiness to Goodlatte over the phone already.
"I think there are a number of us who are going to push back on that real, real hard," Jordan said.
Gowdy has encouraged his committee members to give him questions they want to be asked, and he will ask them of Rosenstein, a Gowdy aide said.
"As noted in our statement yesterday, the transcript will eventually be made public, therefore all members, press and the general public will have access to the information," the aide added.
Republicans demanded last month that Rosenstein testify to address reports that he discussed wearing a wire to secretly record President Donald Trump and recruited Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. But plans for the tentative interview slipped after Trump said he had no plans to fire Rosenstein following an Air Force One meeting.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows on Thursday renewed his calls for Rosenstein to resign. In July, Meadows and Jordan proposed a resolution to impeach Rosenstein.
"He's not coming under a subpoena, quite frankly he thinks the protection of a classified room is going to protect him from transparency, and it will not," the North Carolina Republican told reporters Friday. "So I don't know that next Wednesday will do anything to alleviate the concerns of Americans. And it's why are we continuing to do hearings in private where we don't have the press or the American people to be the arbiter of what is fair and right."
Asked why the hearing was agreed to with only the four committee leaders, Meadows said: "Weakness."
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida went even further ripping the interview arrangement.
"Instead of having him here under oath, they're going to have some little game of patty-cake with the committee chairmen and the ranking members, with no transcript, with no television cameras, with no other members of the committee," Gaetz said, though Rosenstein will be under oath and a transcript will eventually be released.
"This is no way to conduct oversight. This is how you conduct oversight if you don't really want to find the truth," Gaetz added.
The Rosenstein interview announced Thursday was the product of lengthy negotiations between the Justice Department and the Republican chairmen, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
Rosenstein is scheduled to appear in the middle of a string of interviews that the committees are conducting as part of the investigation into the FBI and the Justice Department handling of the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations.
One of those witnesses, former FBI General Counsel James Baker, testified to the committees that senior FBI officials came to him believing Rosenstein was serious with his wire comments, although Baker was not in the room for the meeting where the comments were made, CNN has reported.
A source in the room has previously told CNN that Rosenstein's wire remark was sarcastic.
Jordan and Meadows have argued that in addition to questioning Rosenstein about recording the President and the 25th Amendment, his testimony is also needed as part of the larger investigation into the Justice Department.
"Rod Rosenstein gets a different standard than everybody else? This is what drives Americans crazy," Jordan said.
Jordan and Meadows attended nearly all of the committee interviews in the probe, many of which have been conducted while Congress has been out of session. They are part of a six-lawmaker Republican group that's taken the lead on the investigation.
Not all Republicans in that group are upset they won't be directly questioning Rosenstein, however.
"As a former federal prosecutor I would love to ask questions of Rod Rosenstein," said Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas, who is also among the leaders of the FBI probe. "Fortunately, they'll be another former federal prosecutor named Trey Gowdy who will be asking questions. I have every confidence that any question that I would have asked Rod Rosenstein, Trey Gowdy will ask that question as well or better than I could have."
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