Rosenstein’s appearance comes as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has stepped up his efforts to investigate the investigation that upended Trump’s presidency and resulted in criminal convictions for several of his associates and campaign aides. Earlier this month, Graham said he would hold “multiple, in-depth congressional hearings” to examine the investigation, which the FBI dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” when it began in 2016.
Those on the political left see his moves, along with others by the administration, as an attempt to undermine Mueller’s work. Rosenstein will be the committee’s first witness.
The Russia case has already been investigated by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who concluded the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to launch the inquiry but lambasted the bureau for how it handled Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The case is also being examined by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham for possible criminal wrongdoing, at Attorney General William P. Barr’s request.
Now in private practice at King & Spalding, Rosenstein has generally defended how the department handled the Russia case, while conceding he might have done some things differently.
He said in a statement he was “grateful” for the opportunity to testify. While most law enforcement officers deserve people’s confidence, he said, even the best make mistakes, and some even engage in “willful misconduct.”
“We can only hope to maintain public confidence if we correct mistakes, hold wrongdoers accountable, and adopt policies to prevent problems from recurring,” he said.
Graham said in a statement that Rosenstein would testify about the “new revelations contained in the Horowitz report concerning the FISA warrant applications and other matters.” FISA is an acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Rosenstein signed off on one of the problematic renewals of a warrant to surveil Page, but Horowitz concluded that he and others in leadership “did not have accurate and complete information.”
Rosenstein did not become deputy attorney general until April 2017, by which time Crossfire Hurricane was well underway. But he was supervising the case in December 2017, when former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian diplomat.
Graham had said previously that the “first phase” of his committee’s work would look at the handling of Flynn’s case. Earlier this month, the Justice Department took the controversial step of asking a federal judge to dismiss the charge against Flynn entirely, arguing in essence that FBI agents did not have good reason to interview Flynn in the first place, and that his lies were not relevant to a proper investigation.
Legal analysts decried the move, saying the department and Barr seemed to be trying to shield a Trump ally. But Barr has publicly defended it and noted it was recommended by St. Louis U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, whom he had personally tapped to review the handling of Flynn’s case.
Rosenstein has yet to weigh in publicly on the Justice Department’s decision. Though he was supervising the case when Flynn pleaded guilty, he was not yet in the Justice Department when the FBI interviewed Flynn in January 2017.
Rosenstein has long had a complicated relationship with Trump. Even though the president nominated him as deputy attorney general, he later derided the Justice Department leader as a “Democrat from Baltimore.” Conservative allies of the president at one point drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein as they sparred with him about turning over information on the Russia investigation.
But Rosenstein has also taken some heat from the left for being willing to mollify Trump. And when Mueller declined to reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr and Rosenstein jointly concluded there was insufficient evidence to make a case — allowing the president to claim “total exoneration,” even though Mueller’s report laid out a far more unflattering portrait of Trump’s conduct.
Graham has said he also will seek to explore requests by Obama administration officials to reveal anonymized names in intelligence documents that would turn out to be various associates of Trump and his campaign, including Flynn. Such requests to “unmask” identities are commonplace, and it is unclear what knowledge Rosenstein might have of them.
Rosenstein served as U.S. attorney in Maryland in the Obama administration — having first been appointed by President George W. Bush — and was not confirmed as Trump’s deputy attorney general until April 2017. He left the department in May 2019.