VIDEO: Deputy AG Rosenstein Refuses Harris Request to Grant Full Independence to Special Counsel
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, pressed U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on whether he would provide full independence to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the FBI's Russia investigation.
"[T]he greater assurance is not that you and I believe in Director Mueller's integrity, which I have no question about Mr. Mueller's integrity", Harris said. "It is that you would put in writing an indication based on your authority as the Acting Attorney General that he has full independence in regards to the investigations that are before him. Are you willing or are you not willing to give him the authority to be fully independent of your ability, statutorily and legally, to fire him?"
Previously, Rosenstein wrote a memo that was used by the White House as justification for firing former FBI Director James Comey, a decision that has come under scrutiny. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as Special Counsel on May 17th and retains the authority to override Mueller's decisions and to order his dismissal. In the hearing, Rosenstein refused to commit in writing to grant Mueller full independence from any officer at the Department of Justice.
Harris noted that precedent had been established when in 2003, then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey appointed a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, to oversee the investigation into the leak that led to the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer. Comey granted Fitzgerald full independence from the supervision or control of any officer at the Department of Justice.
Key excerpt from Harris' questioning can be found below:
Sen. Harris: Thank you. Mr. Rosenstein, when you appointed a special counsel on May 17th, you stated, "Based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command." The order you issued, along with that statement, provides that 28 C.F.R. 600.4-.10 were applicable, those are otherwise known as the special counsel regulations. Is that correct?
Rosenstein: Yes, Senator.
Sen. Harris: And it states that the special counsel, "shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the department." However, the regulations permit you as Acting Attorney General for this matter to override Director Mueller's investigative and prosecutorial decision under specified circumstances. Is that correct?
Rosenstein: Yes, Senator.
Sen. Harris: And it also provides that you may fire or remove Director Mueller under specified circumstances. Is that correct?
Sen. Harris: And you indicated in your statement that you chose a person who exercises a degree of independence, not full independence from the normal chain of command. So my question is this, in December of 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation into the leak that led to the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer. The Acting Attorney General at the time was Jim Comey. He appointed a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, to take over the matter. In a letter dated December 30th of 2003, Mr. Comey wrote the following to Mr. Fitzgerald, "I direct you to exercise the authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department." In a subsequent letter dated February 6th, 2004, Mr. Comey wrote to clarify the earlier letter stating that his delegation of authority to Mr. Fitzgerald was "plenary." Moreover, it said that my "conferral on you of the title of special counsel in this matter should not be misunderstood to suggest that your position and authorities are defined or limited by 28 C.F.R. part 600." Those are the special counsel regulations we discussed. So, would you agree, Mr. Rosenstein, to provide a letter to Director Mueller similarly providing that Director Mueller has the authority as special counsel, "independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department" and ensure that Director Mueller has the authority that is plenary not "defined or limited" by the special counsel regulations?
Rosenstein: Senator, I'm very sensitive about time, and I'd like to have a very lengthy conversation and explain that all to you. I tried to do that--
Sen. Harris: Can you give me a yes or no answer?
Rosenstein: --in the closed briefing. Well, it's not a short answer, Senator. The answer is--
Sen. Harris: It is. Either you are willing to do that or not, as we have precedent in that regard.
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