It appears that things got ugly in a recent meeting between Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and House oversight staff. Rosenstein reportedly threatened to “subpoena” House committee members if they went after him with a contempt sanction for failing to turn over material on the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign officials. If the account is true, it was a mistake by Rosenstein. To quote The Godfather, oversight is not personal, its oversight business.The report comes in the same week as news that former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe will be suing the government over access to material.
Rosenstein’s supporters insist no threat was made and he merely stated that he has rights to and could respond to any charge with a move to subpoena emails, phone records and other documents from lawmakers and aides on the House Intelligence Committee. This is not the time for such threats. Oversight committees are supposed to make agencies uncomfortable. In the past, the intelligence committee were notorious for chummy relationship with the agencies and a distinct lack of oversight. Combining a failure to turn over material to an oversight committee with threats is an unwise decision.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has objected that Rosenstein’s comments were misrepresented. That could well be the case, particularly in the difference between Rosenstein using his personal right to defend against a charge and his using a criminal subpoena. However, it was a mistake to make any type of threat in such meetings. You have to let it go as a high-ranking official.
The threat itself is less than credible. Courts have generally supported the oversight committee in their seeking documents and these allegations fall squarely within the oversight jurisdiction of the House committee.