As Republicans in Congress attempt to turn attention away from President Donald Trump's ongoing Russia scandal, one target that they've identified as a potentially viable distraction is the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
One method is by calling for the declassification of a controversial memo that criticizes Rosenstein's handling of a court request to seek a surveillance warrant against a top former Trump associate, according to The New York Times. Carter Page, who worked for Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, was believed by the Justice Department to be working as a Russian agent.
The GOP memo argued that Rosenstein did not do his job in vetting the warrant application against Page, which he ultimately approved. They said that Rosenstein failed to sufficiently explain to the intelligence court judge that the case against Carter Page was at least partially based on research accumulated by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, whose work had received financing from the Democratic National Committee as well as Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Yet the controversy over Rosenstein is occurring against the larger backdrop of internal divisions within the Republican Party over how to respond to the widening Trump-Russia scandal. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have all supported various measures that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Trump, according to The Washington Post. By contrast, House Republican leaders like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California are opposed to measures protecting Mueller, arguing that they're unnecessary.
The root of this division is a report that Trump tried to fire Rosenstein and, when that failed, Mueller himself, all the way back in June. Trump denies that this is the case and has so far met little resistance in that narrative from his most conservative supporters. He even received support from one of the more conservative Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who dismissed it as "New York talk."