Rosenstein to be grilled today on Trump bombshells

Rod Rosenstein is expected to be grilled Thursday on back-to-back political bombshells that have rattled the nation’s capital. 

The deputy attorney general will brief all senators on Thursday afternoon behind closed doors, giving many lawmakers their first face-to-face meeting with an administration official since President Trump’s surprise decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey. 

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In the wake of intense pressure from Democrats, Rosenstein announced Wednesday evening that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will serve as special counsel to probe any election collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Rosenstein had previously declined to appoint a special counsel. 

Senators will lob questions at the newly minted deputy attorney general, who recommended Comey’s firing in a memo to Trump before the FBI chief was terminated last week. The timing of Rosenstein’s decision to tap Mueller will surely come up on Thursday and whether Rosenstein consulted the White House before making his decision.

Asked on what he wanted to hear from Rosenstein, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes MORE (R-S.C.) said, “It’s pretty simple: Did you support the decision to fire [Comey] and tell us about the letter and how it came about.”

Another issue that is likely to come up is whether Rosenstein was aware of the memo that Comey reportedly wrote after Trump allegedly suggested that the FBI director back off in the probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. 

Rosenstein became a lightning rod over Comey’s firing when the White House initially tried to hang the decision on a memo from Rosenstein that criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer presidents, first ladies come together to honor Barbara Bush Romney: Parts of Comey book read 'too much like a novel’ Collins: Comey should have waited to release his memoir MORE’s use of a private email server while secretary of State.  

Rosenstein’s memo stated that “the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage” since 2016. Trump later told NBC News that he was prepared to fire Comey no matter the recommendation from Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions Trump to lawmakers pressing Sessions to investigate Comey and Clinton: 'Good luck with that' Five takeaways from Trump adding Giuliani Trump disputes report that he calls Sessions 'Mr. Magoo' MORE

The political landmines awaiting Rosenstein are a dramatic shift from the bipartisan praise he received during his confirmation hearing. Democrats lauded him as a potential check on Sessions, whom they don’t trust with the Russia investigation and worry will steer the administration to the hard right. 

Only six Democrats — four of whom are viewed as potential 2020 presidential candidates — voted against Rosenstein’s nomination. By comparison, only one — Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State MORE (W.Va.) — voted for Sessions. All Republicans backed Rosenstein in the 94-6 roll call.

Rosenstein, 52, has been involved in many high-profile cases at the Justice Department. For example, then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderComey's book tour is all about 'truth' — but his FBI tenure, not so much James Comey and Andrew McCabe: You read, you decide Eric Holder headed to New Hampshire for high-profile event MORE tapped Rosenstein to find out who was leaking classified information about the U.S. cyberattack efforts against Iran. Retired Marine Gen. James Cartright subsequently pleaded guilty. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCan Mueller be more honest than his colleagues? Throwing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism House Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds MORE (D-N.Y.) voted to confirm Rosenstein, saying the nominee had a “reputation for integrity.”

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner CIA declassifies memo on nominee's handling of interrogation tapes Senate panel punts Mueller protection bill to next week MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, also backed Rosenstein because of his “impressive credentials” while also warning against the danger of the Justice Department becoming politicized. 

But that admiration for Rosenstein has dissolved into frustration and confusion for many Democrats, who had been irritated with Rosenstein’s initial reluctance to appoint a special counsel.

Feinstein and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTo succeed in Syria, Democrats should not resist Trump policy Hannity, Kimmel, Farrow among Time's '100 Most Influential' The Hill's Morning Report: 200 Days to the Election MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, had explicitly called for Rosenstein to resign if he refused to name a special counsel. 

While Thursday’s briefing is not open to the press, it’s likely that details of the meeting will be leaked.

Senate Republicans had suggested a special counsel wasn’t necessary, noting ongoing investigations had already begun — including one by the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, a handful of moderate GOP lawmakers had left the door open to a special counsel.

The push for Rosenstein to testify is the first of a growing list of Democratic demands in the wake of Comey’s firing. Democrats also want Sessions to meet with senators, Trump to release any potential recordings of his conversations and Comey to testify publicly. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued an invitation to Comey to testify before the committee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to issue a similar invitation. 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem senators demand Trump explain ties to Koch brothers Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes EPA inspector general to probe Pruitt's use of taxpayer-funded security detail on trips to Disneyland, Rose Bowl game MORE (D-R.I.) called the briefing with Rosenstein an “important step” before pivoting to the importance of having Comey himself come and speak to members about the reported memo.

Asked if he is hopeful that Rosenstein would be able to provide clarity, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHouse, Senate GOP compete for cash Overnight Tech: Alleged robocall kingpin testifies before Congress | What lawmakers learned | Push for new robocall rules | Facebook changes privacy settings ahead of new data law | Time Warner CEO defends AT&T merger at trial Senators grill alleged robocall kingpin MORE (R-S.D.) responded: “I would like to think he is in the position to know the answer to a lot our questions, so I think that would be helpful. But I also think it’s important that Comey appear here and speak to members of Congress in an open setting.”