House Speaker Paul Ryan rejects Rod Rosenstein impeachment effort

WASHINGTON/BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday rejected a move by fellow Republicans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, who oversees the federal probe of Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election.

"Do I support impeachment of Rod Rosenstein? No, I do not," said Ryan, whose stance could make it easier for other Republican members to oppose the measure.

A group of Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment to remove Rosenstein, escalating a fight over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Republican President Donald Trump's campaign worked with Moscow to sway the 2016 presidential election.

RELATED: Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein working together

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Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein working together
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a summit about combating human trafficking at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L), Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, look on at a summit about combating human trafficking at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attend a summit on crime reduction and public safety in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attend a summit on crime reduction and public safety in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02: Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L), and Deputy U.S. Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein participate summit to discuss efforts to combat human trafficking, at the Justice Department, on February 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L), and Deputy U.S. Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein participate in a summit to discuss efforts to combat human trafficking, at the Justice Department, on February 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 4: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, left, holds a press conference announcing on-going leak investigations, on August, 04, 2017 in Washington, DC. At right is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arrive to address the National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety in Bethesda, Maryland on June 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 20: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein applaud during the National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety at the Hyatt Regency hotel June 20, 2017 in Bethesda, Maryland. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Justice Department's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, when he served as an advisor to the campaign of President Donlad Trump. Rosenstein took over the Justice Department's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election after Sessions recused himself. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 20: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sit next to each other on stage during the National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety at the Hyatt Regency hotel June 20, 2017 in Bethesda, Maryland. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Justice Department's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, when he served as an advisor to the campaign of President Donlad Trump. Rosenstein took over the Justice Department's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election after Sessions recused himself. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, who belong to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, joined nine other lawmakers in accusing Rosenstein of hiding investigative information from Congress, failure to comply with congressional subpoenas and other alleged misconduct.

No immediate action was expected on the move. The House was scheduled to leave on Thursday for a recess that extends until September. A House Republican aide said the two lawmakers were not trying to force quick action on the measure.

Earlier, Rosenstein's boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 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," including illegal immigration, the attorney general added.

The former U.S. senator recused himself from matters that involve the Trump campaign, including the Russia probe, last year because of his role as a top adviser to the campaign.

Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, has become a frequent punching bag for Trump supporters for appointing Mueller to take over the Russia investigation from the FBI. The president has denied collusion with Moscow and characterizes the probe as a "witch hunt." Russia has denied interfering in the election.

Democrats criticized the Republican move. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi noted that Rosenstein is a Republican appointee and said the Republican lawmakers were undermining the judicial system with a politically motivated action.

"The attack on Rosenstein, of course, is an attack on the Mueller investigation," Pelosi said at a news conference on Thursday.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Nate Raymond in Boston; writing by Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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