Five highlights from the tense Wray-Rosenstein hearing
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday faced a fierce grilling from House Republicans amid the escalating feud between the Justice Department and allies of President Trump on Capitol Hill.
The five-hour hearing before the House Judiciary Committee contained plenty of fireworks as that feud spilled over into public view.
By the time Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) gaveled out, it was clear the GOP was still deeply unsatisfied by the department’s response to their demands.
For Democrats, the message was just as obvious: Republicans, they say, are conducting an unnecessary investigation in order to muddy the waters around special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election interference.
Here are the five biggest highlights from Wednesday’s hearing.
Rosenstein stands his ground against conservative critics
The typically soft-spoken Rosenstein wasn’t shy about punching back against Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leading figure in the House Freedom Caucus and one of his fiercest critics on Capitol Hill.
In one of the most confrontational exchanges of the day, Jordan accused the deputy attorney general of “hiding information” from Congress — a charge Rosenstein virulently denied.
“Now Mr. Jordan, I am the deputy attorney general of the United States. Okay?” Rosenstein snapped in obvious annoyance. “I am not the person doing the redacting. I am responsible for responding to your concerns, as I am … So your statement that I am personally keeping information from you, trying to conceal information —”
“You’re the boss, Mr. Rosenstein,” Jordan interrupted.
“That’s correct, and my job is to make sure we respond to your requests. And we have, sir. Again, I appreciate your concerns—”
“Again, I think the House of Representatives is going to say otherwise,” Jordan cut in.
Finally, Rosenstein appeared to have had enough: “But your use of this to attack me personally is deeply wrong.”
Rosenstein got in another sharp jab at Jordan’s expense later in the hearing, when Jordan pressed Rosenstein on allegations that he had “threatened” to subpoena certain information on House Intelligence Committee staffers amid the dispute over record production.
“Did you threaten to subpoena phones and emails?” Jordan asked.
Rosenstein fired back without missing a beat. “No sir, and there’s no way to subpoena phone calls,” he said, before brusquely switching off his mic. The room erupted into laughter.
Gowdy demands an end to the Mueller probe
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) aired Republican frustrations over the Mueller investigation during his questioning, accusing the probe of “tearing” the American people apart and demanding its swift conclusion.
“There’s an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied,” Gowdy said. “I think right now all of us are being denied. Whatever you’ve got, finish it the hell up, because this country is being torn apart.”
For more than a year, Mueller has been pressing forward with his probe — the inner workings of which have been closely guarded. Public indictments have offered mere glimpses of Mueller’s lines of inquiry; the special counsel is said to be exploring possible obstruction of justice on the part of President Trump, but officials have said nothing publicly on the topic. Meanwhile, Trump has railed against the investigation, frequently labeling it a “witch hunt.”
Gowdy on Thursday urged the department to publicly present evidence of any wrongdoing by Trump, if it exists.
Rosenstein maintained his composure and gently pushed back on suggestions that the department should end the investigation.
“I think the best thing we can do is finish it appropriately and reach a conclusion,” Rosenstein said.
The deputy attorney general went on to stress that there has been “no allegation” by the Justice Department or special counsel Mueller beyond what is contained in the public indictments, and discouraged the public from jumping to conclusions “without seeing the evidence.”
House ramps up pressure on Justice over documents
The House successfully passed a resolution in the middle of the hearing, one that seeks to compel the Justice Department to turn over key documents that Congress has requested.
The measure, which passed along party lines in a 226-183 vote, serves as a warning shot from House conservatives that they will take more aggressive action if the FBI and Justice Department do not provide all the information they are seeking to obtain.
Shortly before the vote on the resolution, Jordan, one of the authors of the measure, told Rosenstein that it will show that House lawmakers do not believe the Justice Department has fully complied with their document requests nor their congressional subpoenas.
Both Rosenstein and Wray used the public forum as a platform to defend their agencies against the GOP lawmakers’ attacks. The two officials fiercely pushed back on claims that their agencies were “slow-walking” documents to the committee.
Rosenstein told lawmakers during his opening remarks that the FBI has made “unprecedented disclosures” to congressional committees under the Trump administration, nothing that they have fulfilled most document requests.
Wray also noted that they have had about 100 employees working around the clock to provide all relevant documents to Congress, and that they plan to complete any outstanding document requests.
“For months, we’ve been working with your committee to make witnesses available, answer questions, and produce or make available to you and your staff over now 880,000 pages,” Wray told the committee in his opening remarks.
Wray, Rosenstein defend integrity of Mueller probe
The two officials staunchly defended the integrity of both themselves and Mueller’s investigation amid a barrage of criticism from the right.
Both Wray and Rosenstein denied that they are “angry Democrats.” Their remarks came in response to one Democratic lawmaker’s question referencing Trump’s frequent claim that “13 angry Democrats” are serving on Mueller’s investigative team.
“I’m trying to do this job apolitically,” Wray told lawmakers. “I do not consider myself an angry Democrat.”
Rosenstein pushed back on criticism that Mueller is dragging out the probe, saying he believes the pace of the special counsel’s investigation is “not atypical at all,” and that it is being carried out as quickly as possible.
The deputy attorney general also defended the probe against claims that political bias among FBI officials may have tainted it, stating that Mueller has taken “appropriate steps” to ensure that any animus toward Trump did not impact the Russia investigation.
“I can assure you that he understands the importance of considering any credibility issues, determining whether or not to rely on a person,” Rosenstein told lawmakers.
Rosenstein pushes back on surveillance warrant criticism
Republicans have seized on Rosenstein’s role in approving a surveillance warrant request for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, after the election was over and Page was no longer a part of the campaign. They say, without evidence, that it was uncorroborated and based almost exclusively on a piece of opposition research paid for in part by the Clinton campaign — something that Democrats who have seen the underlying application say isn’t true.
Rosenstein at multiple points defended his approval of the warrant application, although he declined to discuss classified specifics in a public setting.
He said he “disputes [the] characterization” that the court’s order authorized the FBI to “spy” on the Trump campaign, as the president and his allies have alleged.
“If the inspector general finds I did something wrong, I’ll accept that judgment, but I think that’s highly highly unlikely,” he said in a testy exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), referring to an ongoing review of the matter by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Later, he added that it would be a “dereliction of duty” if he failed to sign validly predicated warrant applications.