The lawyer nominated to serve as deputy to Attorney General Jeff Sessions shrugged off pressure by Democratic Senators who want him to appoint an independent counsel to investigate alleged Russian involvement in President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
During a nomination hearing on Tuesday morning, Sen. Dianne Feinstein pressed Rod Rosenstein to appoint an “independent special counsel” to investigate Russians activities in the 2016 election. Her questions prompted Rosenstein to note that the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and a current top department official have already declined calls for a special investigation.
“I certainly wouldn’t be in a position overrule them without having access to the facts that are the basis for their decisions,” Rosenstein said during the Tuesday morning nomination heading for himself and Rachel Brand, who is slated to take the number three slot at the department.
“I interpret that as a no, is that fair?” Feinstein responded. “Well, I don’t know, Senator,” he responded. “I think the — the answer is I’m simply not in a position to answer the question.”
Rosenstein is being pressured by Democrats because Sessions declared last week that he would recuse himself from any investigation of the President. That recusal leaves Rosenstein, once appointed, with the legal power to appoint an outside investigator if an initial federal investigation finds evidence of illegal collusion between the Russians and Trump’s campaign deputies.
The GOP chairman of the panel, Sen. Chuck Grassley, nudged Rosenstein to say that civil servants working for Rosenstein can handle the task, without any role for a special outside investigator.
Grassley: OK. Is there any basis on what you would not be able to handle such an — these investigations, given that the Attorney General Sessions has announced his intention to recuse?
ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I’m not aware of any. I should tell you, of course, since I’m not involved in the matter, I don’t know what, if any investigation is currently ongoing within the department. So if I were confirmed, I would need to familiarize myself with the facts. I would need to consult with experts in the department. We have a complex set of rules and statutes that govern recusals [by officials].
And so I’m not aware of any requirement for me to recuse at this time. But as a lawyer, senator, I would have to know what it is I’m recusing from. And as a Department of Justice official, I’d have to rely on the advice I got from the career staff, we have folks who are trained to do just that.
Several Democrats insisted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions be forced to provide more testimony about his one private meeting with the Russian ambassador in 2016.
“I think Senator Sessions should come back… he owes it to this committee to come back and explain himself,” claimed Sen. Al Franken.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pressed Rosenstein for an investigation of the claims about Russian involvement, prompting Rosenstein to say that the intelligence agencies have agreed the Russians got involved and “we need to figure out who is responsible for it.”
Sen. Chris Coons pushed Rosenstein to investigate charges of illegal voting in the 2016 election, and pushed Brand to support the far-reaching “Violence Against Women” act.