Rosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs

Rosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs
© Greg Nash

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE is stepping back into the public spotlight amid growing GOP skepticism about the Russia probe.

Rosenstein will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, marking his first public appearance before Congress since leaving the administration in May 2019. 

The hearing is the first of Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRep. Tim Ryan becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Graham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan MORE’s (R-S.C.) investigation into “Crossfire Hurricane,” the name of the FBI’s probe into Russia's election interference and the Trump campaign, putting the former No. 2 Justice Department official in the middle of growing tensions in the Senate over the controversial investigations. 

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“We have a lot to talk about,” said Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Graham’s committee. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (R-Ky.) and member of the panel, added that he was “curious” to see how the hearing played out. 

“There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since he appointed the special counsel, a lot of evidence of FISA abuse and improper use of confidential human sources to basically investigate a presidential candidate,” Cornyn added, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 

Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate in a 94-6 vote in 2017, but his status as a key figure of the Russia investigation soured his relationship with congressional Republicans, including a high-profile threat from House conservatives to try to impeach him. 

Republicans say they want to grill Rosenstein on two areas, in particular: the surveillance warrant applications against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the decision to appoint a special counsel to take over the Russia probe after Trump fired former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign DOJ watchdog unable to determine if FBI fed Giuliani information ahead of 2016 election Biden sister has book deal, set to publish in April MORE.

Rosenstein signed off on the final warrant application renewal against Page. And because former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE recused himself from the Russia investigation, Rosenstein was able to appoint Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE as special counsel and oversaw the probe, which dominated Washington for the first two years of Trump’s presidency.

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“I’d like to know from him, was he misled? ...I’d like to hear from him whether or not he was informed about the content of the applications that he signed and that he presided over, and if not, why not, and what was going on there,” Hawley said. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (R-Iowa), a current member and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he had not yet decided if he would ask Rosenstein questions, or use his time to vent frustration over the past three years. 

“I may just give my remarks ... Generally how we’ve been misled for three years, you know, and it’s just now coming out,” Grassley said. 

Grassley has previously singled out Rosenstein as blocking his requests for information tied to the Russia probe. Asked about that on Monday, he added, “I think it’s pretty clear that what he said we could have, he worked with the director of national intelligence for us not to get.” 

Both Hawley and Cornyn said that they also wanted Rosenstein’s views in “retrospect” on his decision to appoint a special counsel in the wake of Comey’s firing — a decision that garnered bipartisan support at the time. 

“I’m sure he’ll be asked that,” Hawley said. 

Graham, in a statement, said Rosenstein would “testify about the new revelations contained in the Horowitz report concerning the FISA warrant applications and other matters.”

Rosenstein was interviewed as part of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review of the Page warrant applications and renewals. 

Horowitz’s report found that Rosenstein and other department officials “did not have accurate and complete information at the time they approved them.” 

Rosenstein tipped his hand to Horowitz’s report in a statement, saying that “even the best law enforcement officers make mistakes, and that some engage in willful misconduct.” 

“Independent law enforcement investigations, judicial review, and congressional oversight are important checks on the discretion of agents and prosecutors,” he added. 

Rosenstein’s two-year tenure was beset by controversy. He authored a memo that Trump initially used as justification for firing Comey, though the president later said he would have fired the FBI director regardless. 

His job security was also viewed as rocky after The New York Times reported in September 2018 that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and recruiting other officials to invoke the 25th Amendment to expel Trump from office. Rosenstein vehemently denied the report as inaccurate; Trump himself said he didn't believe it, electing to keep Rosenstein on in his job.

Graham has been planning to subpoena Rosenstein, but a spokesperson for the GOP senator confirmed that he has dropped the legal threat after reaching a deal for his testimony. 

The hearing comes as Republicans are ramping up their investigations into decisions stemming from the Obama administration as Trump prepares to face off against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November. 

Democrats have fumed over the investigations, viewing them as attempts to target Trump’s political rivals, including Biden, that run the risk of spreading Russian misinformation. Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters on Monday that Judiciary Committee Democrats had not yet discussed their strategy for Rosenstein. 

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (D-N.Y.) has called on McConnell to force the GOP chairman to cancel “conspiracy hearings.” 

"They have failed the American people by turning the institutions of the Senate into an extension of the President’s re-election campaign ... Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold yet another hearing, not on the pandemic, but on baseless conspiracy theories related to the 2016 election. Leader McConnell should instruct these committees to cancel these conspiracy hearings," Schumer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter. 

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Schumer added from the Senate floor on Monday that “there shouldn’t be hearings on President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE’s wild conspiracies about the 2016 election.” 

Graham is doing a deep dive into the Russia investigation, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the investigation of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, which was a part of Mueller’s investigation. 

At the same time, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is conducting a wide-ranging investigation that looks at the same issues, as well as Hunter Biden and Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings. 

Both panels are scheduled to hold subpoena votes on Thursday that, if successful, will escalate their respective investigations into a new phase. Because Republicans hold a majority on both committees they will be able to grant Johnson and Graham the power to issue subpoenas without support from Democrats, who are anticipated to vote against the effort. 

“What we saw was a total corruption of that before, during and after this transition. It's incredibly serious,” Johnson told Fox News during an interview on Sunday.