WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he doesn't support the effort by some of his conservative House colleagues to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
"Do I support impeachment of Rosenstein? No, I do not," Ryan, R-Wis., said at his weekly press conference as lawmakers packed up to leave Capitol Hill for a month-long recess.
"I don't think we should be cavalier with this process or term," he said of impeachment, adding, "I don't think this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors."
A group of conservative House members filed articles of impeachment against Rosenstein Wednesday night, alleging that he has withheld documents from Congress and made misleading statements to lawmakers. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; and nine co-sponsors.
Ryan said that while Congress hasn't gotten full compliance on its requests for documents from the Department of Justice, lawmakers have seen "tremendous progress" since he stepped in and got involved.
If an impeachment resolution were to pass the House, Ryan warned, it would "tie the Senate into knots," delaying both appropriations bills and the confirmation of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
"For many reasons, I don’t think it's the right way to go," Ryan said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the impeachment effort was a bid to take focus from the investigation at Ohio State University, where Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach, and according to some former wrestlers, turned a blind eye to the team's doctor who's accused of molesting their athletes. Jordan has denied previous knowledge of any type of abuse.
"Well, I don’t know, but what I’ve heard is Jim Jordan wants to just take attention away from the scrutiny that he is under in Ohio, that could be part of it," Pelosi told reporters Thursday about the impeachment effort.
Meanwhile, as Ryan spoke to reporters Thursday, Jordan announced in a letter to his colleagues that he plans to run for speaker of the House next year if Republicans retain control of the lower chamber. Asked if the OSU investigation might impact his run, Jordan said it would not. "No, everyone can see through that story," he said. "I've talked to numerous of my colleagues, and they can all see through that story."
Meadows told reporters Thursday morning that he won't try to force a vote on the measure.
"We were able to make some other concessions and agreements that will hopefully will compel DOJ and FBI to deliver the documents," he said.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told Fox News Thursday that he would vote for the resolution if it were to reach the floor.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would not respond Thursday when asked if he supported impeaching Rosenstein, but said, "I think it's very clear the DOJ has got to provide the information because the House of Representatives has the responsibility and the accountability to oversee them."
And Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, indicated Thursday that he doesn't back the impeachment effort.
"I am supportive of our desire to gain of getting the documents. Impeachment is a punishment. So, I want the documents," he said. "My position for the most part has been I don't like drama but I want the documents. It hasn’t changed."
The other issue with impeachment, added Gowdy, is that it's unlikely to succeed: "I don't see the votes."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended Rosenstein.
"My deputy, Rod Rosenstein, is highly capable. I have the highest confidence in him," Sessions said at a press conference in Boston.
Sessions said that Congress has far more pressing issues to deal with than impeaching a top DOJ official.
"We need Congress to deal with the immigration question," he said.