WASHINGTON (CN) – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been invited to testify behind closed doors about his alleged proposal that the Justice Department secretly record President Donald Trump and invoke the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office, a congressman revealed Friday.
"Leadership has agreed to call Rod Rosenstein before Congress, for a closed door hearing with our panel investigating, so he can explain his alleged comments on ‘wiring’ POTUS – as well as other inconsistent statements," Rep. Mark Meadows said in a morning tweet.
The North Carolina Republican added: “If Mr. Rosenstein fails to show up, we will subpoena him.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte noted meanwhile that arrangements for the hearing still need to be worked out before a joint session of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees.
Rosenstein has repeatedly denied the allegations, which appeared in a New York Times report last week.
In addition to a claim that Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire during a meeting with Trump, the report also suggested Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president from office shortly after then-FBI director James Comey was fired last year.
Multiple reports circulating Friday suggest Rosenstein has accepted the invitation to testify.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return request for comment.
With Rosenstein’s future in the administration still uncertain, speculation is ratcheting up over whether he'll ultimately be allowed to stay on, if he'll be fired, or resign rather than let Trump show him the door.
According to Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, an attorney, political strategist and now judicial affairs editor at Daily Kos, in the end, if Rosenstein departs, it may never be clear whether he was fired or left of his own accord.
That's what happened when Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin departed the administration in March. The White House insisted he'd been fired. Shulkin said he resigned.
“We could see that happen again," Buckwalter-Poza said. "Even if Rosenstein is fired, the White House could claim otherwise,” she said, noting that the fight over Trump’s authority to name an acting replacement for Shulkin hinged on Trump’s appointment of someone “outside the line of succession” within the Veterans Affairs office.
Technically, in Rosenstein's case, Trump could pick any Senate-confirmed executive branch official to act in the deputy attorney general’s stead, she said.
And that could affect the outcome of the Special Counsel’s investigation.
According to the Justice Department’s line of succession, Solicitor General Noel Francisco is next in line, a potentially “good outcome” for Trump, she said.
“Francisco is a conservative stalwart whose background and views are more in line with those of the administration’s than Rosenstein’s,” Buckwalter-Poza added.
If Rosenstein is fired, by law, Trump must default to Francisco or “risk a major legal battle over his replacement pick’s authority under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.”
Enacted in 1998, the legislation gives the president authority to name an acting replacement for officials who die or resign but not those who are fired.
Provoking a contentious fight on Capitol Hill by naming someone outside the line of succession could be appealing to the president, she said.
“Mueller would then be in a tough position. What happens if he moves forward with actions that require the acting replacement's approval before the issue of authority is resolved?” she said.
Naveed Jamali, a onetime FBI asset and author of "How to Catch a Russian Spy," said in an interview that whether Rosenstein stays or goes, ultimately, he believes the Mueller investigation will “run its course.”
Jamali said his concerns about a possible Rosenstein’s departure revolve primarily around how his ousting might affect those inside the intelligence community and in turn, national security.
Rosenstein’s exit wouldn’t necessarily “unseat” Mueller’s investigation, he said, but it could lower morale at the FBI or CIA, who have frequently found themselves the focus of criticism by representatives like Meadows, other members of the GOP's conservative wing, and the president himself.
Though the invitation to Rosenstein is for a closed door session, the pursuit itself may add to an increasingly high-pressure environment for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“At the core of this, Trump’s allegations are how his campaign was targeted for partisan reasons and for that, he points towards the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application [surveilling Carter Page],” Jamali said.
FISA, Jamali explained, is only a tool for surveillance. The people he’s worked with over the years – “the analysts, not the Lisa Pages or Peter Stzroks or the Comeys,” he said – merely want to “put eyes on the bad guys.”
“It’s a tool. You go through a process to use it. If the FISA process will now be second guessed because of where it leads, those junior analysts and line agents – what are they going to think? What will supervisors think about signing off on one?” he said.
Though Rosenstein’s future is uncertain, one thing seems clear to Jamali for now: no matter how high up an official at the center of highly public criticism is – when it comes from the nation’s highest office – the one constant all may be feeling is pressure.
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