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LIVE COVERAGE: DOJ nominee on the hot seat over Russia

LIVE COVERAGE: DOJ nominee on the hot seat over Russia
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With Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision Thursday to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s connections to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, focus is turning to the Department of Justice’s secondary leaders.

Deputy attorney general nominee Rod Rosenstein and associate attorney general nominee Rachel Brand will face the national spotlight Tuesday during their confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

They are likely to face sharp questions about how they might handle investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or ties to the Trump campaign, as well as the president's unsubstantiated accusation that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. 

The Hill will be providing updates from the Senate Judiciary hearing here.

Calls for Sessions to return sparks spat 

12:25 p.m.

Several Democrats took the opportunity to hammer Sessions for his corrected testimony on whether he had any contact with Russian officials during the campaign — earning a hurry-along from the chair in the process. 

"I think Senator Sessions should come back. I think he owes it to this committee to come back and explain himself," Franken said in an extended summary of Sessions's confirmation testimony and subsequent correction. "He answered a question I did not ask. I bent over backward not to say that he lied. He needs to come back."

"If you’re making a statement, please make it very quickly," Grassley cut in.

Later, Grassley pushed back more strongly, touching off a brief brushfire between the two lawmakers.

"I would like to comment on what Sen. Franken just said," Grassley said, characterizing Franken's initial question to Sessions regarding Russian contacts, during his confirmation hearing, as a "gotcha" question. 

“It was not a gotcha question, sir,” Franken said.

“It was from the standpoint that he didn't know what you were asking about,” a visibly angry Grassley said, gaveling for order repeatedly as Franken attempted to respond to him.

“Look at the tape, Mr. Chair —” Franken said.  

“Senator Tillis — Senator Tillis —” Grassley pressed, insisting the hearing move on.

"I know what I read in the newspaper"

12:09 p.m.

Pressed repeatedly by Democrats for a series of confirmations — including how he interpreted the scope of Sessions's recusal, whether he would publicly announce the close of a probe into Russian involvement in the election, whether he believed a special counsel was needed, whether he knew about the existence of an ongoing investigation — Rosenstein walked a careful tightrope. 

Repeatedly, he declined to speculate, insisting that it would be inappropriate for him to offer a firm opinion when the extent of his knowledge is "what I read in the newspaper" — a position that at times appeared to frustrate Democrats. 

Throughout the back-and-forth, Brand sat quietly. She was occasionally asked brief questions unrelated to Russia — but her answers were largely lost in the tense exchanges with Rosenstein.

"I'm going to ask Ms. Brand a question. Mr. Rosenstein, feel free to space out on this one," Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenWhy Smokin' Joe leads the pack of 2020 Democratic hopefuls Pawlenty to announce bid for Minnesota governor Al Franken: Sessions firing McCabe ‘is hypocrisy at its worst’ MORE (D-Minn.) joked at one point. 

Rosenstein declines to endorse — or condemn — a special prosecutor 

11:04 a.m.

In an occasionally tense exchange with Feinstein, Rosenstein declined to weigh in on the need for a special counsel, arguing that he doesn't know the underlying facts as the current acting deputy attorney general does and therefore cannot make a determination on whether such a role is needed. 

Feinstein was unsatisfied, arguing that she interpreted his answer as a "no." 

Rosenstein pushed back gently. 

"I'm simply not in a position to answer that," he said. 

Later, pressed on the same subject by Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress should build on the momentum from spending bill Overnight Tech: Zuckerberg grilled by lawmakers over data scandal | What we learned from marathon hearing | Facebook hit with class action lawsuit | Twitter endorses political ad disclosure bill | Uber buys bike share Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg faces grilling in marathon hearing | What we learned from Facebook chief | Dems press Ryan to help get Russia hacking records | Top Trump security adviser resigning MORE (D-Vt.), he affirmed: "I will appoint a special counsel whenever I determine it’s appropriate based on the policies and procedures of the Department of Justice."

Rosenstein sees no reason for his own recusal 

10:52 a.m.

Pressed by Grassley on any conversations he has had with Sessions about investigations into Russian interference, Rosenstein said not only did he not recall any conversation on that topic, he expected to treat any such investigation no differently than any other.

Roseinstein affirmed that he was "not aware of any" reason why he would need to recuse himself from such an investigation.

"The bottom line is that it’s my job to make sure all investigations are conducted independently."

Grassley pushes back on need for independent counsel
 
10:14 a.m.
 
In a jam-packed committee room where attendees sat shoulder-to-shoulder — hinting at the level of interest in what would normally be a routine confirmation hearing — committee chair Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Grassley: McConnell doesn't control my committee MORE (R-Iowa) kicked off proceedings with a fierce rebuttal of calls for an independent prosecutor in any ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election.

"The notion that somehow a special counsel will bring facts to light just isn’t true," Grassley said.

Sessions's recusal last week means that Rosenstein will command any such investigation. 

Ranking member Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate panel punts Mueller protection bill to next week Steyer endorses de León in bid to unseat Feinstein Amid struggle for votes, GOP plows ahead with Cabinet picks MORE (D-Calif.) was careful to note that her calls for an independent prosecutor were not related to Rosenstein's professionalism or integrity, as Grassley had suggested. 

"Any insinuation that Mr. Rosenstein lacks the impartiality and professionalism to handle these kind of matters is out of line," Grassley said, referring to calls for such an office from Democrats generally. "His independence is beyond reproach."