Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has called up former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to testify in the first of a series of hearings examining the Obama administration’s the Trump-Russia investigations and misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Graham announced the June 3 hearing in a press release on Wednesday.
Rosenstein responded in a statement that he was “grateful” for the opportunity to explain himself.
“I am grateful to Chairman Graham for the opportunity to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about information that has come to light concerning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process and the FBI’s counterintelligence decision-making, as a result of completed inquiries by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and ongoing reviews by U.S. Attorneys John Durham and Jeff Jensen,” Rosenstein wrote. “During my three decades of service in law enforcement, I learned firsthand that most local, state, and federal law enforcement officers deserve the high confidence people place in them, but that even the best law enforcement officers sometimes make mistakes and that some engage in willful misconduct.”
“We can only hope to maintain public confidence if we correct mistakes, hold wrongdoers accountable, and adopt policies to prevent problems from recurring,” the former DAG added in his statement.
Rosenstein oversaw the Russia investigation at the DOJ after Sessions recused himself from anything related to the investigation. Republicans will want him to explain a number of documents from that time period that were unearthed by Judicial Watch, last Fall.
The watchdog released 145 pages of Rosenstein’s communications, including a one-line email from Rosenstein to Robert Mueller stating “The boss and his staff do not know about our discussions.” That email came just five days before Rosenstein appointed Mueller to take over the FBI’s Russia investigation as special counsel, roiling Trump’s presidency.
The damning communications also include “off the record” emails with major media outlets around the date of Mueller’s appointment.
On May 8, 2017, Rosenstein wrote a memo to President Trump recommending that FBI Director James Comey be fired. The next day, President Trump fired Comey. Just three days later, on May 12, Rosenstein sent an email assuring Robert Mueller that “The boss and his staff do not know about our discussions.”
In a May 16, 2017 email, sent the day before Mueller’s appointment, Rosenstein emailed former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General and current Kirkland & Ellis Partner, Mark Filip stating, “I am with Mueller. He shares my views. Duty Calls. Sometimes the moment chooses us.”
On May 17, he appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to conduct the investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as well as any matters arising directly from that investigation.
Some time between May 8 and May 17, according to then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s notes, Rosenstein met with McCabe and other senior Justice Department and FBI officials to discuss wearing a wire into the oval office to spy on Trump, as well as invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president.
When McCabe’s claim was made public, Rosenstein denied the charge, calling it “inaccurate and factually incorrect.” However, McCabe’s notes about the meeting (also released by Judicial Watch), tell a different story: “The DAG proposed that he could potentially wear a recording device into the Oval Office to collect additional evidence on the President’s true intentions,” McCabe wrote. “He said he thought this might be possible because he was not searched when he entered the White House. I told him that I would discuss the opportunity with my investigative team and get back to him.”
In February of 2019, Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe insisted that Rosenstein was “absolutely serious” about wearing the wire and further claimed that Rosenstein discussed with Justice Department officials a plan to recruit members of President Trump’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.
The Justice Department firmly denied McCabe’s stunning claims, saying Rosenstein did not believe there were any grounds to remove Trump from office via the 25th Amendment.
Rosenstein will undoubtedly also be asked to explain why he signed the June 2017 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application to renew surveillance of former Trump adviser Carter Page. The FISA warrant was based heavily on the now discredited Steele dossier.
Last December, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI had made “at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications and many errors in the Woods Procedures” during its Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
By signing the fatally flawed application, he had assured the FISA court that the information collected by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele was credible and “verified.” He will likely be asked to explain why the application he signed failed to note that in May of 2017, a month earlier, Steele admitted that his information was “unverified.”
In truth, Steele’s anti-Trump dossier was cobbled together using Russian disinformation at the behest of the sleazy oppo research firm Fusion GPS. The effort was funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Dem-friendly Perkins Coie law firm.
Recently declassified footnotes revealed that the FBI was aware that Steele may have been fed Russian disinformation yet used his dossier anyway.
Senators Grassley and Graham noticed inconsistancies in Steele’s interrogatory responses in January of 2018, and referred him to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. In their memorandum on the topic dated January 4, 2018, they wrote that “FBI and DOJ officials misrepresented Steele’s credibility to the FISA Court in order to make Steele appear more credible than the facts would justify.”
Was Rosenstein kept in the dark about all of this? If so, why would he sign off on a surveillance warrant he knows nothing about?
The former DAG is also likely to be asked to explain his three “scope memos” to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The first Mueller scope memo was part of Mueller’s appointment order by Rosenstein on May 17, 2017, just over a week after Trump fired Comey. Rosenstein authorized Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
The second Mueller scope memo, written by Rosenstein in August 2017, authorized Mueller to investigate allegations against Page, Flynn, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The allegations against Page in the memo echoed claims made against him in Steele’s unverified anti-Trump dossier, and the claims leveled against Flynn reference the possibility that Flynn broke the law under the Logan Act during his discussions with Russia’s ambassador, which were picked up in a U.S. surveillance operation.
The third Mueller scope memo, authored by Rosenstein in Oct. 2017, has not been declassified yet. However, it was described in Mueller’s report, released in April 2019, which said the Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but that investigators “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Mueller’s report laid out 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice. Barr and Rosenstein said they examined the evidence and concluded that it did not rise to the level of obstruction of justice, but Democrats still saw it as a road map for impeachment.
Republicans will also want to ask Rosenstein why he steadfastly refused their requests to appoint a second special counsel to investigate the Obama administration’s surveillance abuses.
He resigned from his post as second-in-command at the Justice Department in April of 2019, shortly after Barr took over as attorney general.
A few days before he submitted his resignation, Rosenstein spoke at an event in New York City where he opened up about the special counsel’s Russia investigation, and threw shade on critics, politicians, the media, and members of the Obama administration, including James Comey.
“The FBI director [Comey] announced at a congressional hearing that there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges. Then the former FBI director alleged that the president pressured him to close the investigation, and the president denied that the conversation occurred,” he said.
Rosenstein added that “the FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffs, lawmakers and their staffers,” and then “someone selectively leaked details to the news media.”
He also defended his boss, Attorney General William Barr in a rare interview with the WSJ before he left: “He’s being as forthcoming as he can, and so this notion that he’s trying to mislead people, I think is just completely bizarre,” Rosenstein said.
In January of this year, investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson filed a lawsuit against Rosenstein, claiming that he led the task force that spied on her computers.
While his relationship with Trump was rocky at times, he left office on good terms with the president.
In his resignation letter, Rosenstein told Trump: “I am grateful to you for the opportunity to serve; for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations; and for the goals you set in your inaugural address: patriotism, unity, safety, education and prosperity, because ‘a nation exists to serve its citizens.’”