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 GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing 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 ClintonDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Kanye West 'not denying' his campaign seeks to damage Biden 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 SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign 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) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic 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 HolderObamas discuss pandemic, voting, anxiety and community in new podcast Joy Reid debut delivers 2.6 million viewers for MSNBC The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Facebook — Republicans rejigger summer convention plans 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 SchumerChuck SchumerPostal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period A three-trillion dollar stimulus, but Charles Schumer for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (D-N.Y.) voted to confirm Rosenstein, saying the nominee had a “reputation for integrity.”

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks 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 DurbinOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic 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 WhitehouseSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks Liability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks 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 ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House 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.”