WASHINGTON —- Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in a move that marks a dramatic escalation in the battle over the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The effort, spearheaded by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, also sets up a showdown with House Republican leaders, who have distanced themselves from calls to remove Rosenstein from office. But Meadows and Jordan stopped short of forcing an immediate vote on the measure, sparing Republican lawmakers for now from a potential dilemma.
"For nine months we've warned them consequences were coming, and for nine months we've heard the same excuses backed up by the same unacceptable conduct," Meadows said in a statement announcing the move. "Time is up and the consequences are here. It's time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency."
Meadows and Jordan are leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a bloc whose members have been among the most persistent critics of Rosenstein. All 11 lawmakers who filed the resolution are members of the caucus.
House Republicans have been ramping up their attacks on the deputy attorney general in recent weeks, accusing him of withholding documents and being insufficiently transparent in his handling of the probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In an appearance on Fox Business Network Wednesday night, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. said that while the next step remains uncertain since the House leaves town for its summer recess at the end of this week, "it was very important for those of us who believe that norms have been violated to step out and say Rod Rosenstein needs to be impeached."
"The mountain of evidence against Rod Rosenstein is very compelling when you look at the extent to which documents and witnesses have been withheld," said Gaetz, one of the lawmakers who introduced the resolution.
Democrats have argued that House Republicans' clashes with Rosenstein are little more than a pretext to weaken Mueller's efforts.
Justice Department officials said they have provided the vast majority of information sought in subpoenas from two key House committees - and are nearly done with providing all of the outstanding information requested in those subpoenas.
A Justice Department official said only one committee request has been formally denied, a demand to see the unredacted Justice Deptartment memo detailing exactly which Trump associates are under investigation by special counsel Mueller and for which potential crimes. Officials declined that request because providing it could compromise ongoing investigations.
One of the key documents requested, a largely unredacted copy of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant on former Trump adviser Carter Page, has been viewed by about 30 lawmakers. Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has not viewed the document, but one of his staffers has, according to a Justice Dept. official.
A separate fight over details about a longtime FBI human source who aided the Russia probe was resolved when officials briefed a small group of congressional leaders, the official said.
The Justice Department has set aside two rooms at its headquarters for other lawmakers and their staffers to review secret documents - one room for documents about the Russia probe, and another room for documents relating to the probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, the official said.
At one point, FBI officials had to write new software code to search their systems for documents sought by the lawmakers, the official said.
The maneuver is reminiscent of when Meadows, in July 2015, filed a resolution to unseat John Boehner as speaker of the House. Meadows did not immediately force a vote but threatened to do so over the ensuing months until Boehner announced his retirement in late September.