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Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about his role in the ‘Russian collusion’ investigation.
During testimony, Rosenstein said he would not have signed a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant renewal for former 2016 Trump campaign advisor Carter Page if he had been aware of since-released evidence indicating FBI misconduct in seeking at least four such warrants during the bureau’s “Crossfire Hurricane” counterintelligence operation.
“If you knew then what you know now, would you have signed the application?” committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Rosenstein.
“No, I would not,” Rosenstein said.
The former deputy AG appointed special counsel Robert Mueller and took over management of the ‘Russian collusion’ investigation after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself — an action he defended.
“Attorney General Sessions had complied with a legal obligation to recuse himself from that investigation,” Rosenstein said, referring to the recusal. “As a result of events that followed the departure of the FBI Director, I was concerned that the public would not have confidence in the investigation and that the acting FBI Director was not the right person to lead it.”
Rosenstein recommended Trump remove then-Director James Comey, which then elevated his deputy, Andrew McCabe, to FBI head.
“I decided that appointing a Special Counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and promote public confidence in its conclusions,” Rosenstein added, going on to say that his appointment of Mueller was “consistent with Department of Justice precedent.”
“I asked the Special Counsel to review each criminal allegation the FBI considered relevant to Russian election influence operations and recommended whether to close the matter; investigate because it might be relevant to Russian election meddling; or refer the matter to another prosecutor,” Rosenstein said.
During Mueller’s appointment, the former deputy AG issued three scope memos.
In his first scope memo, issued in May 2017 about a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Rosenstein authorized Mueller to probe “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
In a second scope memo, Rosenstein authorized Mueller to look into allegations against 2016 Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
There is a third scope memo issued by Rosenstein in October 2017, but it has yet to be declassified.
In addition, Rosenstein signed off on the fourth and final Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant in 2017 authorizing the FBI to continue spying on Page long after the bureau knew that there was no collusion and no criminality committed by the Trump team.
In his opening statement, Rosenstein defended his own actions relating to the FISA warrant, noting that “every application I approved appeared to be justified based on the facts it alleged.”
He specifically pointed to the FBI as having misled him and the process.
“The FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified,” Rosenstein said, then citing Justice Department inspector general discoveries last year indicating the FBI actually “was not following the written protocols, and that ‘significant errors’ appeared in applications filed in connection with the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”
DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report documented 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to FISA court warrants obtained against Page in 2016 and 2017, as well as the FBI’s reliance on the flawed and unsubstantiated ‘dossier’ compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.
The dossier was compiled at the direction of political opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was “funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm,” the Washington Examiner notes.
Recently declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report indicated that the FBI believed that Steele’s dossier was likely compromised with Russian disinformation but the bureau used it anyway to get FISA warrants.
U.S. Attorney John Durham is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the origins of ‘Russiagate’ at the direction of Attorney General William Barr.
Rosenstein told the Judiciary Committee repeatedly that he did not know about details since raised by critics to point out shortcomings involving spying on the 2016 Trump campaign. He added that obviously didn’t know there was exculpatory evidence” involving Flynn, which has recently been made public as well.
The former deputy AG also noted that “whenever agents or prosecutors make serious mistakes or engage in misconduct,” the Justice Department “must take remedial action.”
“Ensuring the integrity of governmental processes is essential to public confidence in the rule of law,” he added.
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