Deputy AG Rosenstein Defends Special Counsel Investigation Before Congress

Dec 13, 2017
Originally published on December 13, 2017 9:14 pm
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The Justice Department official who is supervising its Russia investigation testified today before the House Judiciary Committee. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the special counsel's probe as Republicans accused investigators of anti-Trump bias. Here's NPR's Ryan Lucas.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Overseeing what may be the most politically charged investigation in a generation is a high-profile job that will most certainly win you a place in the history books. It also means that every step of the investigation is going to be scrutinized, if not criticized, by Congress. Today, Robert Mueller's team was the subject of that criticism.

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STEVE CHABOT: The Mueller team overwhelmingly ought to be attired with Democratic donkeys on their jerseys or...

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JIM JORDAN: And I think the public trust in this whole thing is gone.

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LAMAR SMITH: I am concerned that the special counsel may be casting too wide of a net.

LUCAS: That's Republican Congressmen Steve Chabot, Jim Jordan and Lamar Smith. Republicans accused Mueller's team of being stocked with career prosecutors who harbor a deep distaste for President Trump. They questioned political donations that people working for the special counsel have made over the years to Clinton, Obama and other Democrats. Those donations are permitted under Justice Department rules. Of particular interest today was the matter of senior FBI agent Peter Strzok. He was removed from Mueller's team this summer over text messages he sent to an FBI lawyer that disparaged Trump.

The Justice Department provided the committee with copies of those texts last night. In one message cited by lawmakers, the agent called Trump, quote, "an utter idiot." In another, he writes, Clinton should win the election 100 million to zero. Several lawmakers grilled Rosenstein about how those texts reflect on the investigation's impartiality, including Steve Chabot.

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CHABOT: How with a straight face can you say that this group of Democrat partisans are unbiased and will give President Trump a fair shake?

LUCAS: Again and again, Rosenstein defended Mueller, whom he appointed in May after the president fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Mueller is himself a former FBI director. He's also a Vietnam War veteran and a Republican.

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ROD ROSENSTEIN: I think it will be very difficult, Congressman, for anybody to find somebody better qualified for this job.

LUCAS: Rosenstein also said he has seen no reason at this point to fire Mueller, despite calls from some Republicans to disband the special counsel's probe. Here's an exchange with the committee's top Democrat, Jerrold Nadler.

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JERROLD NADLER: Have you seen good cause to fire special counsel Mueller?

ROSENSTEIN: No.

NADLER: If you were ordered today to fire Mr. Mueller, what would you do?

ROSENSTEIN: As I've explained previously, I would follow the regulation. If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not.

LUCAS: The deputy attorney general also defended Mueller's team. Justice Department guidelines, he said, prohibit taking political affiliation into consideration with career employees. He also said the department knows that employees have political opinions. It's the job of those who supervise this investigation, he said, to ensure that those opinions don't influence the department's work.

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ROSENSTEIN: I believe that Director Mueller understands that and that he is running that office appropriately, recognizing that people have political views but ensuring that those views are not in any way a factor in how they conduct themselves in office.

LUCAS: That message landed well with committee Democrats, but it did little to satisfy Republicans, who appear certain to continue to raise questions about the rush to investigation as it moves forward. Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.