U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has rejected a move by fellow Republicans to impeach the No. 2 Justice Department official who oversees the special counsel investigating Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election.
Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill on July 26 that he does not support impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who most recently made a mark by announcing the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents on charges of election-hacking days before U.S. President Donald Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ryan said the alleged offenses Republicans cited in moving to impeach Rosenstein -- his struggle with House committees over their requests for thousands of internal department documents -- don't rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the U.S. Constitution specifies are the only grounds for impeachment of an executive branch officer.
"I don't think we should be cavalier with this process," Ryan said, adding that he has been encouraged by Rosenstein's recent progress in producing the documents sought by Republicans.
A small group of 11 House Republicans on July 25 took the rare move of introducing articles of impeachment to remove Rosenstein, the Justice official who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to take over theinvestigation into ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign from the FBI about a year ago.
The conservative lawmakers accused Rosenstein of alleged wrongdoing not directly related to the Mueller investigation, mostly involving their fight over the release of internal documents.
But Democrats charged the move was aimed at stifling or distracting attention from Mueller's Russia probe.
"The attack on Rosenstein of course is an attack on the Mueller investigation," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Asked recently about rumors that House Republicans might move to impeach him, Rosenstein was defiant.
"I think they should understand by now, the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted," he said.
Rosenstein's boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on July 26 expressed confidence in the career civil servant and took a swipe at the lawmakers pushing for his ouster.
"My deputy, Rod Rosenstein, is highly capable. I have the highest confidence in him," Sessions said during an appearance in Boston.
"What I would like Congress to do is to focus on some of the legal challenges that are out there," such as addressing illegal immigration, Sessions said.
Sessions last year recused himself from matters that involve the Trump campaign, including the Russia probe, because of his role as a top adviser to the campaign, leaving it to Rosenstein to set up and oversee the Mueller investigation.
The White House was more supportive of the impeachment move.
“The president has been clear he wants DOJ to be transparent and cooperate with Congress,"White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters flying aboard Air Force One on July 26.
The president has denied collusion with Russia and characterizes the investigation as a "witch hunt." Russia has also denied interfering in the election.
Democrats charged that the effort to impeach Rosenstein is only the latest maneuver by the GOP to undermine confidence in the Mueller investigation and the broader judicial system, both to protect Trump and their own political careers.
Rosenstein "stands as one of the few restraints against the overreaches of the president and his allies in Congress," three senior Democratic representatives -- Jerrold Nadler, Elijah Cummings, and Adam Schiff -- said in a joint statement.