Why is everyone laughing?

Maddow did a rather brilliant exposition yesterday about Rod Rosenstein’s admiration of FDR’s Attorney General Robert Jackson and how that ties in to Rosenstein’s resistance to Republican demands for documents from an ongoing investigation. Rosenstein has a big portrait of Jackson in his Deputy AG conference room, hung so that it’s over his right shoulder when he sits at the head of the table for meetings. Jackson went from AG to the Supreme Court, from which he took a leave (a most unusual thing for a supreme to do) to be the prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.

She drew on a story the Times did on May 2 about those Republican demands for docs from a live investigation. I’ve been thinking all along that it sounds very like Devin Nunes’s tipping off of the administration last year – that in fact they want the documents because they want to tip off the White House about what’s in them. The Times story spells that out, cautiously.

President Trump plunged into an angry dispute on Wednesday between conservative House Republicans and the deputy attorney general, siding with hard-line lawmakers over his own Justice Department as they pressed for access to sensitive documents related to the special counsel’s investigation and other politically charged cases.

Distrust between Mr. Rosenstein and Congress has been building over months. In recent weeks, he has made significant gestures to release documents demanded by prominent congressmen, only to be threatened with impeachment by lawmakers from the far right.

Mr. Rosenstein responded on Tuesday to that threat by declaring that the Justice Department would not be “extorted.”

Officials at the department believe that the conservatives have now gone too far with document requests related to continuing investigations that the lawmakers clearly do not support, including the inquiry led by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russia’s election interference. A former federal law enforcement official familiar with the department’s views said that Mr. Rosenstein and top F.B.I. officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about that investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.

Ya think?

That’s probably cautious reporterese for “they have assumed all along that some lawmakers are trying to see the documents so that they can share the contents with Trump’s lawyers.”

The way Maddow and the people she chose to interview put it, it’s a core principle of DoJ investigations that they don’t share information from them while they are in progress. Other sources put it somewhat more tentatively. On the other other hand Maddow showed a clip of Rosenstein speaking at an event yesterday, a rather obscure event for a busy Deputy Ag, which seems to hint that he’s speaking at these things to make his case in public – in the clip he mentioned the separation of powers and then that he has a rather strong interest in it at the moment, and then slyly asked why everyone was laughing. Wink wink nudge nudge. In short he gave a big shoutout to the separation of powers at a moment when some House Republicans are trying to undermine that in their efforts to help the mob boss in the White House.

Mr. Trump’s threat on Wednesday to intervene bolstered those voices and could undermine the Justice Department’s ability to protect some of its most closely held secrets. Lawmakers conducting oversight are usually given summaries of the information, but not the intelligence collected directly from wiretaps and sensitive sources.

Similar standoffs between law enforcement officials and Congress have resulted in compromise dating back decades, but in those cases, the Justice Department had the support of the president. Without Mr. Trump’s support, Congress is gaining the advantage.

Republican lawmakers, for their part, argue that Mr. Rosenstein’s department has slow-walked important requests and withheld crucial details from documents they do turn over — material they say is necessary to doing their jobs. And their threats are hardly veiled.

It’s a trap.

Democrats fear that the Republican requests — many of which call on the department to ignore longstanding policy about what it shares with Congress — are meant as a trap. Either Mr. Rosenstein can turn over information that could be used to undermine the special counsel’s inquiry, or he could refuse, giving Mr. Trump cover, or even cause, to fire the deputy attorney general.

Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the latest Republican efforts were “clearly trying to sabotage” Mr. Mueller’s investigation and court a confrontation with Mr. Rosenstein.

“All of this noise is aimed at undermining the special counsel’s work as the investigation closes in on the president,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “The president’s attacks on the Department of Justice grow more paranoid by the day. The case for obstruction of justice — and the complicity of these House Republicans — grows day by day as well.”

Mr. Rosenstein, who has already given the Republican lawmakers access to hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, has made clear in recent days that he does not intend to go further.

On Monday, the Justice Department wrote to Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan to deny them access to the document about the scope of the Russia inquiry, citing department policy against sharing information on a continuing investigation.

“The department recognizes the keen interest that Congress has in the special counsel’s investigation, but, respectfully, we must adhere to the longstanding position of the department that congressional inquiries pertaining to ongoing criminal investigations threaten the integrity of those investigations,” Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times.

“We hope you can respect our position,” he added.

And on Tuesday, Mr. Rosenstein, reacting to reports that Mr. Meadows had drafted articles of impeachment to use against him if needed, pushed back hard.

“If we were to just open our doors to allow Congress to come and rummage through the files, that would be a serious infringement on the separation of powers,” Mr. Rosenstein said at an event in Washington. “It might resolve a dispute today, but it would have negative repercussions in the long run, and we have a responsibility to defend the institution.”

And on Friday he said it again.

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