Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday defended his role overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, blaming senior FBI officials for withholding vital information related to the probe.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing came as the panel’s chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is facing mounting pressure from President Donald Trump and allies to investigate the Obama administration officials who spearheaded the Russia probe. Democrats, meanwhile, argue the inquiry which appears to be broadening is an effort to run political interference for the president in the run-up to Election Day.
In congressional testimony Wednesday, Rosenstein particularly defended and explained his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel in 2017, and put the blame on high-level FBI leadership for the “significant errors” that appeared in applications to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser even though he signed off on one of them.
President Donald Trump opposed Mueller’s appointment and probe throughout his presidency, claiming it was a politicized “hoax” that was part of an effort by senior-level Obama administration officials to undermine him. Rosenstein pushed back against that characterization but said he couldn’t “vouch for the allegations.”
“I do not consider the investigation to be corrupt, but I certainly understand the president’s frustration given the outcome,” Rosenstein told senators, referencing Mueller’s conclusions as part of his nearly two-year investigation.
Sources from Politico state that Wednesday’s hearing was largely a repeat of the events surrounding the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that ensnared Trump and his allies for years, a rerun that Republicans said was necessary for accountability, and one that Democrats asserted was a waste of the committee’s time amid a global pandemic, economic depression, and nation protests against police brutality.
In his opening statement, which was acquired by POLITICO prior to his Senate testimony, Rosenstein said he was right to appoint a special counsel after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because “I was concerned that the public would not have confidence in the investigation.”
He said Comey’s immediate replacement atop the FBI, Andrew McCabe, was “not the right person to lead” that probe. He later said McCabe was “not fully candid with me” and “certainly wasn’t forthcoming,” in particular because McCabe did not share with him Comey’s memos about his conversations with Trump for at least a week after becoming acting director.
“I decided that appointing a special counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and promote public confidence in its conclusions,” Rosenstein said.
Throughout the hearing, McCabe grilled Rosenstein for the comments and said claims the FBI misled him were “completely false.”
“Mr. Rosenstein’s testimony is completely at odds with the factual record,” he said in a statement. “It looks to be yet another sad attempt by the President and his men to rewrite the history of their actions in 2017. They have found Mr. Rosenstein then and now a willing accessory in that effort.”
The hearing is the first of what is likely to be several as part of the committee’s Republican-led investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation. Trump has cheered the probe, while Democrats have said it is an improper use of the Senate’s oversight authority and one intended to boost the president’s reelection bid.