The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus is calling on Rod Rosenstein to step down as deputy attorney general, as lawmakers probe reports the Justice Department official once suggested wearing a "wire" to record President Trump.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., made the comments as James A. Baker, the FBI’s former top lawyer, was questioned behind closed doors on Capitol Hill on Thursday about Rosenstein’s reported comments, as well as other decisions made by the bureau. Meadows criticized Rosenstein for not accepting a recent invitation to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the reported comments.
"I think it's time that Rod Rosenstein steps down," Meadows told reporters. "He should do so immediately. And in doing that, I think it would serve the country well."
The DOJ declined to comment on Meadows' remarks. Late Thursday, the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees announced that they and the top Democrats on the respective panels would interview Rosenstein behind closed doors on Oct. 24.
The New York Times first reported the details of the alleged discussions between Rosenstein and senior FBI officials in May 2017, one day before Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russia investigation.
After the allegations surfaced, Fox News reported on Sept. 22, based on a source who was in the meeting, that Rosenstein's "wire" comments were viewed as "sarcastic."
Rosenstein has denied the reporting, saying, "I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false."
But as reported by Fox News, Baker told congressional investigators during a closed-door deposition earlier this month that two senior FBI officials at the time told him they believed Rosenstein was “serious.”
On Thursday, Baker was back before the House Judiciary Committee for a closed-door deposition. Baker, the former general counsel for the FBI, was involved in some of the most important legal decisions involving the Clinton email probe and the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Baker, in his second Capitol Hill appearance, did not back away from his Oct. 3 testimony that he believed Rosenstein was being serious, according to lawmakers.
Baker had a close working relationship with former FBI Director James Comey and left the bureau earlier this year. He did not take reporter questions as he entered and exited the interview with the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn House building.
“Baker has been very forthright in his answers and that’s more than I can say for Rod Rosenstein,” Meadows told reporters.
Lawmakers, ahead of the testimony, said they planned to ask for more details about his conversations over Rosenstein’s comments.
“It’s deeply troubling. You have the former counsel for the FBI saying that people were very serious in their reactions to Rod Rosenstein,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said.
Gaetz also told reporters FBI lawyers intervened Thursday when lawmakers asked for explanations about certain FISA surveillance warrant applications sought by the FBI.
The "wire" controversy fueled speculation weeks ago that the deputy attorney general might be fired or quit. But after Trump and Rosenstein met for 45 minutes aboard Air Force One last week, Trump said the conversation was "great," and he has no plans to fire Rosenstein.
Baker’s appearance comes as other key figures connected to the so-called Trump dossier have been called to testify on Capitol Hill this week, as the House investigation into Justice Department actions during the 2016 campaign comes to a head.
Glenn Simpson – the co-founder of the Fusion GPS research group that commissioned the unverified, Democrat-funded anti-Trump dossier – on Tuesday invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
The dossier, authored by former British spy Christopher Steele and commissioned by Fusion GPS, was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign through law firm Perkins Coie. It included salacious and unverified allegations about Trump's visit to Russia before he was president and has become a central focus as lawmakers investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.
House Republicans have also scheduled a deposition for Friday with Nellie Ohr, a Russia researcher for Simpson’s company. Ohr is married to Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who has also testified about his contact with Simpson during the campaign.
A Republican House committee aide told Fox News that Nellie Ohr is expected to testify voluntarily at 10:00 a.m. ET, although the situation remains fluid.
Fox News' Kevin Kirby contributed to this report.