FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could become the first two officials in their capacities to be impeached. That’s if they continue to refuse documents the House Intelligence Committee has requested, according to Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
Nunes told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on her show Tuesday that his committee has waited long enough for the documents — and he’s willing to take extreme measures to get them.
What are the details?
Last August, Nunes’ committee subpoenaed the Department of Justice for the documents — known as “electronic communication,” or EC — that served as justification for initiating the counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
According to Nunes, the EC is two pages long and the DOJ has thus far refused to hand over the unredacted version.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Nunes has been quietly encouraging Republican lawmakers to hold Rosenstein and Wray in contempt of Congress. But Nunes told Ingraham worse could happen for the DOJ duo.
"We're not going to just hold in contempt, we will have a plan to hold in contempt and to impeach,” he explained. "We're not messing around here."
One way or the other, Nunes said Congress is determined to receive the full, unredacted EC.
"I can tell you this. We are going to get the document. We’re going to get the two pages. So they can either cough them up now, or it will get really complicated starting tomorrow night,” Nunes said.
“Just the fact that they’re not giving this to us tells me there’s something wrong here,” he added. "We're at a boiling point where we need this."
However, Nunes went on to predict that he wouldn't need to hold Wray or Rosenstein in contempt because they will ultimately comply with his requests.
How rare is impeachment and contempt?
Congress has the ability to hold people in contempt if their actions obstruct congressional proceedings. Usually, this plays out when a congressional committee subpoenas documents or calls for someone to testify and either the documents are not produced or the person does not testify. It takes just a majority vote by Congress or a committee to find someone in contempt.
Federal law dictates that contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 12 months in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Most recently, Lois Lerner was held in contempt in 2014 for refusing to testify on the IRS targeting scandal while then-Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt for refusing to produce documents related to the Fast and Furious scandal.
On the other hand, impeachment is exceedingly rare. According to Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution, "all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
In the history of the U.S., the House has exercised its impeachment power only 19 times, 15 times for federal judges, twice for sitting presidents, once for the secretary of war (1876) and once for a sitting U.S. senator (1797). Eleven of those cases ended with resignations or the accused found guilty, while eight ended with acquittals. In the case of the senator, he was expelled from Congress without his case heading to a Senate trial.
Needless to say, moving to impeach Wray and Rosenstein would be an unprecedented decision, and it likely will not happen, either because the DOJ produces the requested documents or, if they do not, because the move would be seen as highly partisan, making it difficult for the impeachment articles to meet its constitutionally mandated vote threshold.