GOP lawmakers accused the Justice Department of "intimidation" on the heels of a Fox News report that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein once threatened to "subpoena" House committee members, with one lawmaker now claiming staffers have been left “physically shaking” over Rosenstein's tactics.
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge reported Tuesday on emails that described a tense closed-door meeting in January. Written by commitee staffers, they said Rosenstein threatened to subpoena emails, phone records and other documents from lawmakers and aides on the House Intelligence Committee -- in response to inquiries regarding the Russia probe.
One staffer said Rosenstein launched a “sustained personal attack against a congressional staffer in retaliation for vigorous oversight” and called the threats “downright chilling.”
The DOJ and FBI have disputed the characterizations of the meetings, with a DOJ official telling Fox News that officials in the room described the characterization of events as false.
Further, the official said that when Rosenstein returns to the United States from a work trip, “he will request that the House General counsel conduct an internal investigation of these Congressional staffers’ conduct.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose recusal in 2017 put Rosenstein in charge of the Russia investigation, backed his deputy Tuesday night.
“I'm confident that Deputy Rosenstein, 28 years in the Department of Justice, did not improperly threaten anyone on that occasion, but we do believe that we have tried to be cooperative with them and made progress ... in fact have had some good relationships with top members of Congress,” Sessions said on Fox News' “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, blasted Sessions for the remarks, saying he was “flabbergasted.”
“I mean what is the attorney general saying?" he said on "The Ingraham Angle," before listing a series of areas in which he believes Rosenstein has not complied with committee requests.
"[A]nd today we learned in Catherine’s report that ... Rod Rosenstein was threatening members of the House Intelligence Committee for doing their job, for trying to get answers for the American people and the attorney general says ‘that’s okay, we’re doing just fine’?”
Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that they will push for a House vote on a resolution that would urge Rosenstein to comply with committee requests.
Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz further claimed that he's heard about "threats" from Rosenstein as well, saying “the DOJ’s intimidation and stone-walling tactics have gone too far.”
“I’ve heard first-hand from congressional staff following threats delivered by Rod Rosenstein,” he said in a statement. “Staff has literally been scared to the point of physically shaking in my congressional office out of concern for their family.”
Gaetz went on to say that Rosenstein was “intractably conflicted” and should recuse himself from investigations into the Trump campaign and the behavior of FBI and DOJ officials.
“Now, from refusing to produce documents, to improperly redacting documents, to threatening our staff, it is clear that Rod Rosenstein will use every tool at his disposal to frustrate congressional oversight,” he said.
On Tuesday night on Fox News' “The Story,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-.S.C., told host Martha MacCallum he has “just about had it with the Rosenstein approach.”
“We have a duty to oversee the Department of Justice, and here’s what I’d say to Mr. Rosenstein: If you don’t believe that the Department of Justice was off the rails, you are clearly not looking at the same Department of Justice I’m looking at,” Graham said.
“If you don’t believe the FBI was in the tank for [Hillary] Clinton and hated Trump, you’re not looking at the emails over there to be seen. So don’t be upset because we’re calling you out on having a Department of Justice that is out of control,” he said.
Asked about the January meeting, Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., provided a statement to Fox News noting they referred the incident to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office: “The Intelligence Committee considers staff concerns at the most serious level, especially those involving interactions with the executive branch. Based on the justified concerns expressed by our lead staff investigators, we referred this matter to the Speaker’s Office.”
A senior Justice Department official told Fox News that Rosenstein and others have offered to meet Thursday with a group of House leaders known as the Gang of Eight, regarding earlier record requests.
A DOJ official also told Fox News that Rosenstein “never threatened anyone in the room with a criminal investigation.” The official said the department and bureau officials in the room “are all quite clear that the characterization of events laid out here is false,” adding that Rosenstein was responding to a threat of contempt.
“The Deputy Attorney General was making the point—after being threatened with contempt — that as an American citizen charged with the offense of contempt of Congress, he would have the right to defend himself, including requesting production of relevant emails and text messages and calling them as witnesses to demonstrate that their allegations are false,” the official said. “That is why he put them on notice to retain relevant emails and text messages, and he hopes they did so. (We have no process to obtain such records without congressional approval.)”
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, Pamela K. Browne and Cyd Upson contributed to this report.