Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants

Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants
© Greg Nash

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSupreme Court to hear dispute over Democrats' access to Mueller materials Republicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE on Wednesday defended his decision to appoint special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE to oversee the Russia investigation, telling a congressional panel that it was the best way to complete the investigation.

Rosenstein also defended his role in signing off on surveillance warrant applications in the high-profile case during his opening remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I decided that appointing a special counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and promote public confidence in its conclusions," he said in the remarks. "As we now know, the eventual conclusions were that Russians committed crimes seeking to influence the election and Americans did not conspire with them."

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Rosenstein oversaw the Mueller probe after then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsJustice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Tuberville campaign bus catches fire in Alabama Doug Jones cuts pro-mask campaign ad: 'Our health depends on each other' MORE recused himself. He said he appointed a special counsel because he wanted the public to have confidence in the probe. 

On the subject of wiretaps of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, Rosenstein said the applications to a court for the surveillance were "reviewed by supervisors, sworn under oath by a federal agent and certified by the FBI Director."

"Every application that I approved appeared to be justified based on the facts it alleged, and the FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified," Rosenstein said.

The applications have come under intense scrutiny. 

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a report that faulted the team working on the Russia probe, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane,” for failing to disclose such information to department officials before they signed off the applications, as well as Justice Department leadership.

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"That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI, and that FBI officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command's management and supervision of the FISA process," the report stated, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Rosenstein called for action to be taken in order to ensure public confidence in the government's process.

"Senators, whenever agents or prosecutors make serious mistakes or engage in misconduct, the Department of Justice must take remedial action," he said in his opening remarks. "And if existing policies fall short, those policies need to be changed. Ensuring the integrity of governmental processes is essential to public confidence in the rule of law."

He also broadly praised the "integrity" of the many people who work for U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Rosenstein is the first witness to testify before the Republican-led investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the use of FISA during the Russia probe, as well as other facets of the high-profile counterintelligence probe.

The probe has come under GOP scrutiny after Horowitz's series of critical reports. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE has also repeatedly attacked the probe as a "hoax."