Rod Rosenstein defends appointing Mueller to lead Russia probe

WASHINGTON — Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is being grilled Wednesday by the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee over the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe — including his decision to appoint special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate President Trump.

Rosenstein, 55, faces questioning over his decision to sign off on a foreign surveillance warrant covering Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump 2016 campaign, after the Justice Department’s chief watchdog last December found the Mueller investigation was littered with errors.

The former deputy AG defended his decision to tap Mueller to lead the investigation into Trump, saying he was acting by the book after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself and FBI director James Comey was dismissed by the president.

“As a result of events that followed the departure of the FBI director, I was concerned that the public would not have confidence in the investigation and that the acting FBI director was not the right person to lead it,” Rosenstein said.

“I decided that appointing a special counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and promote public confidence in its conclusions,” he continued.

“As we now know, the eventual conclusions were that Russians committed crimes seeking to influence the election, and Americans did not conspire with them,” he said.

Robert Mueller
Robert MuellerSaul Loeb/Getty Images

But Rosenstein said he would not have signed off on a FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page if he had known that there was no legitimate reason to believe Page was working with Russia, as Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found.

Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of using the hearings into the FBI Russia probe, known as Crossfire Hurricane, as a political fodder to bolster President Trump ahead of the November general election.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R. SC) on Wednesday shot down those allegations and said the Horowitz report found a “very major abuse of power” by the nation’s spy agencies.

“If you don’t like Trump, fine. This is not about liking Trump or not liking Trump, this is about us as a nation,” Graham said.

“We’re talking about the nominee for president on the Republican side, his campaign being under continual investigation,” he continued.

“We’re going to be talking about how it got off the rails, who’s responsible for getting off the trails and making sure that they’re punish appropriately,” he said.

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