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Deputy AG defends Mueller amid charges of political bias

Deputy AG defends Mueller amid charges of political bias
© Greg Nash

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Wednesday that he has no cause to remove Robert Mueller from the Russia investigation, even as Republicans stepped up charges of “extreme” political bias on the special counsel’s team.

“Based upon his reputation, his service, his patriotism and his experience with the department and the FBI, I believe he was an ideal choice for this task,” Rosenstein told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee.

Rosenstein was the second official hauled before Congress in the past week forced to defend the integrity of officials at the Justice Department and the FBI. The questioning comes amid revelations that FBI employees exchanged text messages critical of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE before the presidential election.

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On Tuesday evening the Justice Department gave lawmakers hundreds of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok, who has been removed from the special counsel investigation, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page that show the pair referring to Trump as an “idiot” and a “loathsome human.”

The messages were uncovered by a Justice Department inspector-general investigation into conduct by the department and the FBI before the 2016 election.

“We are now beginning to understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team,” said committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers House GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Kid Rock, John Rich visit White House for music copyright bill signing MORE (R-Va.) on Wednesday.

“These text messages prove what we all suspected — high-ranking FBI officials involved in the Clinton investigation were personally invested in the outcome of the election and clearly allowed their political opinions to cloud their judgment,” Goodlatte said.

Rosenstein offered a consistent and fierce defense of Mueller throughout his nearly five-hour testimony on Capitol Hill, crediting the special counsel for taking appropriate action by removing Strzok. Rosenstein also assured lawmakers that he would respond to any sign that Mueller was acting inappropriately or wading outside the scope of the investigation.

“I know what he is doing,” Rosenstein said. “If I thought he was doing something inappropriate, I would take action.”

But Republicans have seized on the Strzok revelations and others to cast doubt on the independence of Mueller’s investigation, as the special counsel appears to be inching closer to the White House following the recent guilty plea from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Trump himself has lashed out at the FBI on Twitter, saying the agency’s reputation was “in tatters.”

Republicans have also zeroed in on Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor on Mueller’s team who praised former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for her decision not to defend Trump’s controversial travel ban earlier this year, according to emails uncovered by a conservative group.

It was also recently revealed that top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr was demoted amid revelations that he had communicated with Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm behind the controversial dossier of opposition research against Trump, and that his wife had worked for the firm.

The recent developments have fueled demands from Trump’s allies for a new special counsel to investigate the Justice Department and the FBI.

“I think the public trust in this whole thing is gone,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanPoll: Republicans narrowly prefer Jordan to lead House GOP House panels postpone meeting with Rosenstein This week: Rosenstein set to meet with House GOP MORE (R-Ohio) fumed on Wednesday.

“You’re the guy who picked Mueller,” Jordan told Rosenstein. “You can disband the Mueller special prosecutor and you can do what we’ve all called for: appoint a second special counsel to look into this, to look into Peter Strzok, Bruce Ohr, everything else we have learned in the last several weeks.”

But Rosenstein stood his ground, insisting that the inspector general will conduct a “thorough review” of the matter.

“He understands the importance of ensuring there is no bias reflected in the conduct of the investigation,” Rosenstein said of Mueller.

Rosenstein, a former Republican-appointed federal prosecutor, became a household name for authoring the memo on which the White House initially pinned the decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey.

Given Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump unsure if Mattis will stay: 'He's sort of a Democrat' Will Sessions use indefinite mandatory detention to reduce the demand for asylum hearings? Chicago sues Trump admin for withholding police funding over sanctuary city policies MORE’s recusal from Russia matters, Rosenstein is responsible for overseeing Mueller’s investigation, which has delivered recent bombshells with indictments of former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, as well as guilty pleas from Flynn and George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign adviser.

Mueller has broad authority to investigate possible collusion between Trump associates and Moscow, as well as any potential crimes stemming from what he discovers in the course of the probe. The special counsel has reportedly issued a subpoena for Trump’s financial records — reports the White House and the president’s lawyers have denied.

Rosenstein on Wednesday rebuffed requests for more information about specific details of the ongoing investigation, telling lawmakers that he is “satisfied” with its course thus far.

His testimony before the committee followed that of Christopher Wray, Trump’s hand-picked successor to Comey at the bureau, who last Thursday defended the FBI’s employees as “decent people committed to the highest principles of integrity and respect.”

“We have a superb team of experienced professionals, including Christopher Wray,” Rosenstein said Wednesday. “I cannot assure you there will be no wrongdoing. We have 115,000 employees; things go wrong. But I can assure you that we will respond appropriately when they do.”