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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says she supports Russia investigation but won’t rule out impeaching Rod Rosenstein

Cathy McMorris Rodgers waves to passing drivers alongside campaigners at the corner of Monroe and Main in downtown Spokane on Aug. 7, 2018. McMorris Rodgers is the incumbent U.S. Representative for Washington's 5th congressional district, a seat she has held since 2005. Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Thursday that impeachment of Justice Department officials overseeing the Russian probe should be an option if they don’t work with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to disclose more information.

The congresswoman was responding to the release of a secret recording made at a closed-door campaign fundraiser last week with Rep. Devin Nunes, first reported by MSNBC on Wednesday night, in which she and Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, responded to a question about the impeachment of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“I’ve said repeatedly that I support the independent investigation into allegations about Russian involvement in the 2016 election. The special counsel should complete its work as soon as possible and be transparent to the American people,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “It’s also critical that the American people are able to trust the Department of Justice, our nation’s top law enforcement agency. To that end, the DOJ and Rod Rosenstein need to make a better effort to turn over the documents that Congress has requested – I expect them to do so and fully comply with appropriate congressional oversight.”

“If they don’t, then Congress should follow regular order to determine if impeachment is the best path forward to restore the public’s trust in the nation’s top law enforcement agency,” the statement concluded.

The fundraising event was closed to the media, and more than a hundred protesters gathered outside to criticize McMorris Rodgers for bringing Nunes, who’s seen as a defender of President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill. Nunes appeared to say at the meeting that it was important the GOP maintain its control in Congress after the November elections so that its can continue to check the investigation into Russian interference.

“I mean, we have to keep all these seats,” Nunes said in the recording, obtained by the progressive group Fuse Washington and first aired on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday night. “We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”

Democratic lawmakers and pundits quickly condemned the remarks, saying they indicated that Nunes was attempting to obstruct justice by suggesting Mueller’s investigation should be quashed. Lisa Brown, the Democrat seeking to unseat McMorris Rodgers in November, said she doesn’t believe Rosenstein should be removed from office and echoed protesters in questioning why the congresswoman brought Nunes to Spokane if she wants the investigation to be completed.

“I think it raises a really important question about her support of the investigation and whether or not different things are said behind closed doors than what is said publicly,” Brown said. She referenced a previous recording – a private conversation first reported by the Washington Post among GOP leadership in June 2016 regarding Trump’s ties to Russia that lawmakers said was intended as a joke – as further evidence, the congresswoman’s public and private statements on Russia haven’t been consistent.

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who’s running for Spokane County treasurer, can be heard on one of the recordings when McMorris Rodgers thanks him for supporting her candidacy. Baumgartner called the statements “a nonstory” that were being buoyed by the progressive-leaning media outlet.

“Nothing about the event was functionally about impeaching Rosenstein,” Baumgartner said. “It was, here’s why it is important for you to help Cathy win the election. It wasn’t about helping Cathy win the election so Rosenstein could be impeached.”

In the recording, Nunes blamed timing, and the need for the Senate to confirm Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, before November as the reason things weren’t moving more swiftly in Congress toward Rosenstein’s removal.

“I’ve said publicly Rosenstein deserves to be impeached,” Nunes said in the recording. “I don’t think you’re gonna get any argument from most of our colleagues. The question is the timing of it right before the election.”

Quoted in the national news magazine Politico, a Nunes spokesman echoed Baumgartner, calling the recording “routine observations.”

“It’s unsurprising to see the left-wing media spin Chairman Nunes’ routine observations as some nefarious plot, since these same media outlets spent the last year and a half touting a nonexistent Russia collusion conspiracy,” Jack Langer, a Nunes spokesman, told Politico.

In another recording released by the group Fuse, which has protested the policies of Trump as well as McMorris Rodgers in the district, the congresswoman told donors it’s important that the GOP confirm Kavanaugh quickly.

“When we get another constitutional conservative on the Supreme Court, we can end the decisions that have been undermining us for 30, 40 years,” McMorris Rodgers said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan threw water on the prospect of impeaching Rosenstein when it was introduced before the August recess in Congress by members of the right-leaning House Freedom Caucus. But his office has been involved in a tug-of-war with the Justice Department for the release of more documents in the investigation, which was referenced in McMorris Rodgers’ comments Thursday.

Fuse hired someone who had already paid the $250 to enter the fundraiser with their own funds to record Nunes, organization spokesman Collin Jergens said in an email. He declined to release the full 43-minute recording of the meeting with Nunes, McMorris Rodgers and campaign donors, saying the tape had been made available exclusively to Maddow’s program.

The group also released a recording of comments the congresswoman made introducing Nunes to the crowd, in which she took swipes at Brown and praised Trump, who she called “a man of action,” on his record of job creation.

“She’s upset that I’m calling her a liberal, well, in the political spectrum it goes from conservative to liberal,” McMorris Rodgers can be heard saying of Brown. “I think we all recognize that. And it’s who she is, that’s her record.”

In an interview Thursday, Brown said she wasn’t upset with the “liberal” label.

“I’m not upset, but I think voters are upset about the false ads and the labels,” she said. TV and mail ads produced by the McMorris Rodgers campaign have painted Brown as soft on crime and big on taxes, though some of the claims were misleading or lacked context.