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 GrahamRepublican senators request briefing on DOJ 'spying' probe Graham says Senate should vote on Sanders prisoner voting idea Barr to testify before Senate panel next week on Mueller report 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 ClintonThe time has come for the Democrats to act, finally Mueller report may result in Russian sanctions but not better behavior Dem race shows signs it could get nasty 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 SessionsJudge: Trump administration has six months to identify separated children Forget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Sessions: It's time to accept the results of the Mueller report and move on 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) ManchinNBC's Kelly O'Donnell tears up over video celebrating 25 years at network Sanders, Klobuchar among five most popular senators: poll Cain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of 'pay cut' 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 HolderDemocrats are playing voters on their fantasies for impeachment Washington Post: 'Congress has every right to investigate' Trump Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle 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 SchumerMJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage MORE (D-N.Y.) voted to confirm Rosenstein, saying the nominee had a “reputation for integrity.”

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBiden says he will run for president in 2020: 'We have to remember who we are' Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions 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 DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal 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 WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Senators press drug industry 'middlemen' over high prices 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 ThuneTelehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? GOP grows tired of being blindsided by Trump Hillicon Valley: Assange faces US charges after arrest | Trump says WikiLeaks 'not my thing' | Uber officially files to go public | Bezos challenges retail rivals on wages | Kremlin tightens its control over internet 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.”