House Democrats are increasingly frustrated with Rod Rosenstein after the deputy attorney general briefed lawmakers Friday on the investigation into Russia’s actions in the presidential election and possible ties to the Trump administration.
The Democrats left the classified, closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement saying Rosenstein refused to answer “simple yes-and-no questions,” in the words of Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), fueling concerns that the President Trump appointee overseeing the Justice Department probes may be influenced by the White House.
“The skepticism persists,” Sánchez, vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, said while leaving the meeting.
“We got a lot of, ‘Trust us, we’ve got integrity, we’re straight shooters, we don’t have ulterior motives.’ I mean, it’s basically, ‘Trust us,’ ” she said. “And I’m operating under [the approach of], ‘OK, trust but verify.’ We need the … factual information.”
A visibly angry Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) was even more forceful, saying the “useless” briefing only escalates the distrust between Congress and the Justice Department.
“He caused more confusion and anger among members of Congress,” Gallego said.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) also appeared agitated.
“There was considerable frustration in the room,” Moulton said afterward. “This renewed my confidence that we should not have confidence in this administration.”
Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, stirred a hornet’s nest last week when he penned a three-page memo hammering former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAnthony Weiner pleads guilty: ‘I have a sickness’The Hill’s 12:30 ReportRosenstein: I stand by Comey memoMORE email scandal throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump initially pointed to the memo as the primary reason for Comey’s firing — a narrative that’s changed several times over the last 10 days — and Rosenstein was reportedly furious that the president leaned so heavily on his letter.
Briefing senators in the Capitol Thursday, Rosenstein told the lawmakers that he knew before writing the memo that Trump intended to fire Comey — suggesting he never expected his missive to be used to justify the action.
On Wednesday, Rosenstein generated new headlines when he named Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor as FBI chief, as special counsel to lead the investigation into the Russia-Trump investigation.
Mueller, for his part, has been embraced by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a highly reputable figure who can rise above the partisan fray and conduct a credible investigation. The one exception may be Rep. Louie GohmertLouie GohmertDem frustration grows with RosensteinWill McConnell and Ryan put party over country in defense of Trump?Why is the State Department refusing to disclose Soros’ involvement in Macedonia?MORE (R-Texas), who took to the microphone late in Friday’s meeting to criticize the new special counsel, according to several lawmakers who attended.
It was not well-received by the other attendees.
“When everybody started leaving, [that] was when he was speaking,” said one lawmaker.
Not everyone left Friday’s meeting disappointed. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who was among the first lawmakers to call for a special counsel this year, said he’s confident Mueller will have the tools he needs to conduct a thorough probe.
“What I learned, and I’m very satisfied with, is the special prosecutor will have the breadth of scope necessary to follow all leads — directly and tangentially,” Issa said.
Democrats weren’t so appeased.
“He refused to answer a lot of questions,” said Moulton. “There’s definitely concern about the control of the administration and whether or not Mueller has the authority that he truly needs.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, piled on.
“I just don’t think he was prepared to talk about much,” he said. “He didn’t do anything to satisfy anybody in that regard.”