Dems seek special counsel on Russia
Deputy attorney general nominee is noncommittal.
WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee called Tuesday for the appointment of a special counsel to lead the criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, saying the appointment was necessary to shield the inquiry from the appearance of political interference by the Trump administration.
“This is about more than just one individual,” said the Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “This is about the integrity of the process and the public’s faith in our institution of justice.”
But the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, said he saw no need for the appointment of a special counsel as the panel took up the confirmation of Trump’s nominee to be deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
“There are times when special counsels are appropriate,” Grassley said in his opening statement. “But it’s far too soon to tell here. And even if there were evidence of a crime related to any of these matters, once confirmed Mr. Rosenstein can decide how to handle it. I know of no reason to question his judgment, integrity or impartiality.”
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing any criminal investigation into 2016 campaign matters, Rosenstein would be in charge of that case if he is confirmed.
The circumstances that led Sessions to step aside — the revelation that he had spoken twice to the Russian ambassador last year, despite telling Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., at his own confirmation hearing in January that he had no contact with Russians — led to a heated moment.
Franken read from a letter that Sessions sent to the committee Monday that insisted his answer had been true because he understood Franken’s question to be about Russian contacts in his role as a surrogate for the Trump campaign, not his role as a senator, and said he had not previously seen a need to correct or supplement that answer because no one had “suggested otherwise.”
Franken called that “insulting” and demanded that Sessions be called back before the panel. Grassley, raising his voice, accused Franken of having asked Sessions a “gotcha question.”
Though repeatedly pressed by Democrats, Rosenstein would not commit to appointing a special prosecutor and said he was unaware of a basis to do so at the moment.