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.
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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)