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Sen. Marsha Blackburn pressed former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday over his role in what she described as a “quiet rebellion” initiated during the Obama administration against President Donald Trump.
Noting what had become a “double standard” in law enforcement within the Justice Department and FBI during the previous administration, the Tennessee Republican suggested the lack of legal action against former officials who reportedly took part in the “plot” against the president has destroyed “trust” in both agencies.
Addressing Rosenstein, who was the first in what is expected to be a number of witnesses called by the Senate panel to provide testimony regarding their alleged roles in the origins of the Russian collusion investigation, Blackburn noted that “insurrection” is not always carried out by armed groups taking to the streets.
Rather, she pressed, such activity can be undertaken using the “color of law” as well.
Blackburn noted that the Justice Department inspector general had discovered that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lied three times under oath, but that he was never formally charged, as required under the law.
“You’ve said that you did not think he was completely forthcoming,” Blackburn said, directing her comment to Rosenstein. “So, if there’s a double standard in place, do you think that Andy McCabe should be criminally charged with lying?”
Rosenstein hedged. “Senator, I don’t express any opinion about that. I don’t have any access to the evidence. And so, I’m really not in a position to comment on it — the evidence being whatever was gathered through the investigation” by the IG’s office, he responded.
Unsatisfied, Blackburn pressed. “Okay, so you have no opinion, if he lied, and we know he lied,” she said.
At that, Rosenstein relented, saying that yes, if McCabe’s misstatements met the legal standard of a lie, he should be prosecuted.
From there, Blackburn pivoted to retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was President Trump’s first national security adviser and the first Trump administration official charged by the special prosecutor Rosenstein appointed to look into Russian collusion — Robert Mueller.
Flynn was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, one count of lying to FBI agents. But newly discovered evidence indicates that the agents sent to interrogate Flynn at the White House in January 2017 were angling to catch him in a perjury trap.
The Tennessee senator noted that a decade ago, federal prosecutors went after then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who was convicted on seven counts of lying on a disclosure form to conceal $250,000 in gifts from oil company executives. The conviction likely cost him a reelection bid.
In the Stevens case, federal prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence, leading the Justice Department, then headed by Attorney General Eric Holder, to dismiss the case. The federal judge in the case was Emmet Sullivan, the same judge in Flynn’s case who now won’t accept the DoJ’s request to drop charges.
Robert Mueller was head of the FBI at the time.
“So, let me ask you this,” Blackburn said to Rosenstein. “Is history repeating itself today, that the prosecutors that went after Flynn, and they withheld Brady (exculpatory) evidence, and they violated his constitutional rights — so, should the charges be dropped against Michael Flynn?”
“Senator, I’m not going to comment on a pending case, but I think it’s important for you to know, I read the pleading that was filed” regarding Flynn, Rosenstein said. “And I know that people have jumped to the conclusion that there may have been wrongdoing by the prosecutors. I haven’t seen that allegation raised by the attorney general or by U.S. Attorney [Jeff] Jenson [of the Eastern District of Missouri].”
At that, Blackburn used an example involving Rosenstein’s two daughters, whom he brought with him to the hearing, to illustrate the point that there must be “consistency” within the Justice Department and FBI when it comes to enforcing the law.
What if, she said, one daughter became an entrepreneur who decided to go into politics [illustrative of President Trump] while the other began a career official within the Justice Department [illustrative of Rosenstein], and the entrepreneur discovered she was spied on by the sister’s DoJ.
If both of them came to their father and asked him for his advice, what would it be, Blackburn asked.
“Would you want there to be two tiers of justice or would you want there to be one?” she pressed. “Would you want there to be consistency?”
“I would want there to be consistency,” Rosenstein responded.
Blackburn then noted that as a member of the Trump transition team, she isn’t certain that she, too, wasn’t also spied on by the Crossfire Hurricane team. She also noted that if Congress doesn’t “get this right” in terms of holding people accountable for any violations of the law, neither her children or his will be able to trust their government moving forward.
Blackburn then accused Rosenstein of vague answers and wanting to “punt” the issue to others, to which he objected.
The former deputy AG defended Mueller and other “Trump appointees” who he said he did not believe were trying to “get rid of the president.”
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