Dems seek spe­cial coun­sel on Rus­sia

Deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral nom­i­nee is non­com­mit­tal.

Austin American-Statesman - - NEWS - Charlie Sav­age and Eric Lichtblau

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.

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