Deputy attorney general’s role in Russia probe debated.
Democrats want him to stay, Trump doesn’t Trump legal team: President not under investigation
Democrats have grown increasingly concerned that oversight of the special counsel’s Russia probe will be wrested away from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — either through recusal or dismissal.
President Trump appeared to direct ire over the investigation at the deputy attorney general on Twitter last week, meanwhile Mr. Rosenstein has reportedly privately discussed the possibility that he may need to recuse himself from the matter.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday in an apparent reference to Mr. Rosenstein, who wrote the memo that recommended James B. Comey’s firing.
That left Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, worried about the president’s intentions.
“The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired,” Mrs. Feinstein said. “If the president thinks he can fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will shut down the investigation, he’s in for a rude awakening. Even his staunchest supporters will balk at such a blatant effort to subvert the law.”
But Mr. Rosenstein, who made the decision last month to appoint Robert Mueller as the special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, could potentially recuse himself from oversight of the matter.
Citing sources within the Justice Department, ABC News reported Friday that Mr. Rosenstein raised the possibility of his own recusal with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. As the DOJ’s third-in-command, Ms. Brand would be the next in line to assume oversight of the special counsel.
The Justice Department said Friday that Mr. Rosenstein has not recused himself from the probe.
“As the deputy attorney general has said numerous times, if there comes a point when he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed,” said DOJ
A member of President Trump’s legal team dismissed the notion that the president is being personally investigated in the Russia-election problem, despite what Mr. Trump himself seemed to say on Twitter.
“Let me be clear: The president’s not under investigation,” Jay Sekulow said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” one of several Sunday politicaltalk shows on which he appeared. “As James Comey said in his testimony that the president was not the target of an investigation on three different occasions, the president is not a subject or target of an investigation.”
Several media outlets reported last week that the investigation had expanded to include whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James B. Comey, who was heading the inquiry when he was terminated.
The president appeared to confirm that report in a tweet on Friday. “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” he wrote. “Witch Hunt.”
Mr. Sekulow said the tweet should not be interpreted as confirmation that the president is under investigation.
“That tweet was in response to a Washington Post story that ran with five unnamed sources, without identifying the agencies they represented, saying that the special counsel had broadened out his investigation to
spokesman Ian Prior.
Discussion about a possible recusal, however, could indicate a widening of the scope of the investigation.
“I’ve talked with Director Mueller about this,” Mr. Rosenstein told The Associated Press earlier this month. “He’s going to make the appropriate decisions, and if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there’s a need from me to recuse, I will.”
Reports last week indicated the probe has now stretched to include inquiries into the business dealings of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, as well as whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia include the president,” he said. “We’ve had no indication of that.”
Mr. Trump’s tweet Friday was not the first to cause confusion about the state of the Russia investigation and put his team on the defensive.
In a tweet after Mr. Comey’s firing, the president claimed to have taped conversations with the former FBI director and threatened to release them. Asked when those tapes will be released, Mr. Sekulow said it was up to the president.
“I think the president is going to address that in the week ahead,” Mr. Sekulow said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “There was a lot of issues this past week.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said the president’s tweets do not always serve him well.
“Trump has a compulsion to counterattack and is very pugnacious. I don’t think it serves him well,” Mr. Gingrich said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I don’t think that tweet helped him. But it’s almost like, it’s who he’s been his whole life. He’s been a fighter his whole life.”
Mr. Gingrich isn’t alone in that judgment.
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said Twitter is not the best medium to discuss a topic as nuanced as the Russia investigation.
“I think the president can do some very good things with Twitter, he’s done some very good things with it,” Mr. Cole said Friday on MSNBC. “In terms of investigations, my advice is
investigation in March, citing his own ties to President Trump’s campaign.
The Democratic National Committee raised concern over the passage of the investigation to another Trump appointee if Mr. Rosenstein were to recuse.
“After Trump’s repeated attempts to enlist top law enforcement officials to interfere in the investigation, there is no reason to believe that anyone within the administration could be effectively insulated from his influence,” DNC spokesman Daniel Wessel said.
Instead, the DNC said Mr. Mueller should be granted total independence and full control over the probe.
The president’s Twitter comments came the morning after Mr. Rosenstein issued a strange public statement that condemned news stories attributed to just to not comment on it.”
The confusion created by Mr. Trump’s tweet was evident when the president’s own lawyer had trouble keeping the story straight Sunday.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Sekulow initially denied that Mr. Trump was under investigation, only to reverse the claim later in the interview.
“So he’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take by the agency who recommended the termination,” Mr. Sekulow said.
When Mr. Wallace called out the contradiction, Mr. Sekulow accused the Fox News anchor of “putting words” in his mouth.
“Let me be crystal clear so you completely understand: We have not received nor are we aware of any investigation of the president of the United States,” Mr. Sekulow said. “Period.”
But Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there’s enough “evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to warrant an investigation.
“Well I think there is evidence,” Mr. Schiff said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I can’t go into the particulars of our closed investigation. But I also think there is evidence of obstruction. But in both cases, I would say, whether there is some evidence doesn’t mean there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a longestablished policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”
Justice Department officials did not provide further context for the statement, but it came within hours after The Washington Post reported that the special counsel’s investigation had expanded to include questions about Mr. Kushner’s business dealings.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is leading the Russia probe. If Mr. Rosenstein recuses himself from the case, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would take over.