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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief the full Senate in a closed session

Published May 18, 2017 11:36 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • A day after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between President Trump's associates and Russian officials, he is heading to the Senate Thursday afternoon to answer questions in a closed session with all 100 senators.

Rosenstein enjoyed support from the Senate a month ago when he was confirmed by a vote of 94-6 to be the Justice Department's second-highest ranking official. But his reputation has come under fierce attack in the last week over the memo he wrote about then-FBI Director James Comey that was initially used by the White House as a justification for Trump to fire Comey.

Since Comey's firing on May 9, the calls for Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel have intensified, especially from Democratic lawmakers who believe he can longer be impartial in the Russia investigation, given his role in the firing of Comey. Rosenstein was put in charge of the Russia investigation as soon as he was confirmed because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after The Washington Post revealed contacts he had with the Russian ambassador that he had not reported to the Senate when asked about it during his confirmation hearing.

Rosenstein's 2:30 p.m. briefing with the Senate was scheduled before he announced late Wednesday that he was appointing Robert Mueller, a former prosecutor who served as FBI director from 2001 to 2013, to take over the Russia investigation as special counsel.

To emphasize the independence of his decision, Rosenstein did not notify White House Counsel Donald McGahn of the appointment until 5:30 p.m., the same time Justice Department officials were briefing reporters and 30 minutes before the news became public.

Trump tweeted early Thursday morning that he was the victim of a "witch hunt" and expressed anger that a special counsel hadn't ever been appointed to investigate Hillary Clinton or former president Barack Obama for their "illegal acts." (He misspelled "counsel" as "councel.")

"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!" Trump tweeted. "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

Rosenstein will most certainly be asked by senators about his decision to launch an independent investigation, as well as the circumstances surrounding the memo he wrote about Comey .

After the Senate briefing was announced Monday by a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that he hoped senators on both sides of the aisle would "use this opportunity to seek the full truth" about Comey's firing.

Last week, in his memo about Comey, Rosenstein wrote that the FBI director had violated longstanding Justice Department practices in his handling of FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state. Principal Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed to Rosenstein's memo as the reason for Trump's firing, saying that Comey had committed "atrocities" in overseeing the FBI's investigation into Clinton.

But, according to a person close to the White House, Rosenstein was upset about the narrative that emerged from the White House the evening of May 9. That telling cast Rosenstein as the prime mover of the decision to fire Comey, even though Trump late stated that he had already decided to fire him before asking Rosenstein for the memo. Rosenstein threatened to resign from the Justice Department because of the explanation that White House officials were giving reporters about why the firing happened.

By Wednesday, White House officials had backed off blaming Rosenstein for the firing and the next day Trump contradicted his own officials and told NBC News that the decision to fire Comey was his alone and he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" when he made it.

Rosenstein may have blunted some of the criticism of his actions in the last week with his special counsel announcement Wednesday. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers praised Rosenstein's appointment of Mueller to oversee the probe into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election and possibly investigate whether the president or anyone at the White House has interfered with the investigation.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, cheered Rosenstein's choice on Twitter, writing: "Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted."




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