House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said Democrats fear the White House will hold improper sway over the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) newly launched probe into Russian election interference.
Pelosi hailed the choice of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the new investigation, calling him “a respected public servant of the highest integrity.”
But she warned that his appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein creates immediate “suspicions” that the White House will try to steer the probe.
Democrats have supported the notion of empowering a special prosecutor under the DOJ, but they’ve insisted the pick be chosen by someone other than a Trump appointee. Rosenstein, whom Trump tapped earlier in the year, doesn’t fit the bill, and Pelosi was quick to point out the distinction.
“Members will have questions about the integrity and the independence of this investigation. It is within the Trump-appointed Justice Department,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
“When we were asking for a special prosecutor, now counsel, we were saying it should be appointed by somebody not appointed by President Trump — the highest-ranking non-Trump-appointed official there. Rosenstein made the appointment,” Pelosi said.
“The most important question is this: What is the independence of this commission? What is the discretion it will be allowed to have? And what is the attitude of the deputy attorney general in that regard right from the start?” she added.
“I’m concerned. I’m concerned.”
Rosenstein, a 27-year DOJ veteran, enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support before this month. He won Senate confirmation on a 94-6 vote in April, and Democrats heaped praise on him through the process.
Trump last week fired FBI Director James Comey, leaning heavily on a recommendation from Rosenstein that criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE email scandal — including actions Trump had once applauded.
Democrats pounced, questioning Rosenstein’s commitment to the rule of law.
It’s that episode that Pelosi pointed to Thursday in questioning the ultimate integrity of the Mueller probe. And it provides further reason, Pelosi added, for Congress to create an outside investigative panel — like the 9/11 commission — to ensure the credibility and non-partisanship of the results.
“He came in with a strong reputation, [but] the memo he wrote was bizarre. And now maybe [he’s thinking], ‘I’ll appoint the prosecutor and we’re back on track,’ ” Pelosi said.
“But it does raise suspicions. They can control the resources that are available. They can control the scope of investigation. And that may be OK for a special prosecutor … but it speaks very eloquently and strongly to the need for an independent outside commission.”
Rosenstein is briefing the full Senate Thursday afternoon on Comey’s firing. On Friday, he’ll cross the Capitol to update the full House on the investigation.