Senate Intel members hold impromptu meeting with deputy AG

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting on Thursday abruptly stepped out of a long-scheduled hearing on worldwide threats for a previously-undisclosed meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. 

The two lawmakers said that they had requested the meeting prior to President Trump's shocking decision to fire former FBI director James B. Comey on Tuesday — a move that came after a recommendation by Rosenstein, though Trump on Thursday said he was going to fire Comey regardless.

 

Rosenstein did not discuss his role in Comey's dismissal, according to chair Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrEx-CIA agent: Whistleblower's complaint 'should be considered on its merits' Senate Intel chair: Whistleblower hasn't agreed to testify before panel Juan Williams: Trump, the conspiracy theory president MORE (R-N.C.), although ranking member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out Zuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Va.) said he raised the director's ouster as evidence of the need for a special prosecutor.  

The decision to appoint a special prosecutor to the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the election rests with Rosenstein. Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE has recused himself from the case. 

Instead, the two lawmakers worked with Rosenstein to coordinate their concurrent investigation into Russian interference in the election. Congressional probes typically seek to avoid interfering with any Justice Department investigations that cover the same ground. 

"We felt that there was a great need to set up a process for deconfliction, so when we had witnesses we needed to talk to, we made sure we weren't stepping on top of [the active investigation]," Burr said. 

The committee on Wednesday issued a subpoena for documents from former national security advisor Michael Flynn. 

Both Burr and Warner called the meeting successful in its stated objective, although Warner added that he still felt concerns over Rosenstein's role in Comey's departure. 

"I expressed — and this is where the chairman and I disagree — the need for this narrowly-tailed independent counsel. He took it under advisement," Warner said. 

U.S. Attorney Dana Boente was also  present for the meeting. 

The surprise meeting caused an uproar Thursday morning when Rosenstein was seen walking into the committee's meeting space just moments before Burr unexpectedly handed off the gavel to Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip MORE (R-Ark.). 

He and Warner had a meeting "we can't push off," he told the panel, which included FBI acting director Andrew McCabe. 

"The inmates are running the asylum!" crowed Cotton, taking the gavel as Burr and Warner slipped out of the back of the hearing room. 

McCabe was providing testimony in lieu of Comey and had faced pointed questions from Democrats on the White House's level of involvement in the Russia investigation. 

Justice Department spokesman Sarah Flores confirmed that the meeting was requested by the committee chairman "long before events of this week," calling the meeting. 

"Nothing unusual," she said. 

- This story was updated at 1:33 p.m.