WASHINGTON, May 19 — Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein faced questions yesterday by US senators desperate for details about his appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russia.
They also grilled him on the timeline of his controversial memo that Trump used as a rationale for sacking FBI director James Comey last week, with two senators saying Rosenstein acknowledged he knew before writing his brief that the president was going to fire Comey.
“He knew the day before” the May 9 firing, Senate Democrat Dick Durbin told reporters as he exited the secure briefing in the basement of the Capitol, where all 100 senators had been invited to attend.
“On May 8th he learned that the president was going to terminate Comey,” Durbin added. Democrat Claire McCaskill corroborated Rosenstein’s remarks.
A third senator, Republican Bill Cassidy, said Rosenstein “indicated what Donald Trump has indicated, that Mr. Trump was leaning in that direction” before Rosenstein presented his memo.
Rosenstein and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions met with Trump May 8, when the president asked them to put into writing their thoughts on Comey.
Initially it was Rosenstein’s memo — critical of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal last year — that was put forward as the justification for the dismissal.
Then Trump admitted he had been considering firing Comey for months.
Rosenstein on Wednesday announced the appointment of former FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s US election, and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign to tilt the vote in the billionaire businessman’s favor.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he has “full confidence” in Mueller.
“He’s going to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, of that I have no doubt.”
A number of lawmakers exited the meeting stressing that Mueller’s probe, while appropriately diving in to all possible Trump-Russia ties, may make it more difficult for current congressional investigations to access vital intelligence.
“I think we’ll have a more difficult time getting information here for the intelligence committee,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.
The Senate Intelligence Committee and House Government Oversight Committee have each requested Comey testify before their panels. — AFP