Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.
As calls grow louder for a special prosecutor to take over the FBI’s investigation into alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the wake of Director James Comey’s ouster, many lawmakers are questioning whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is fit to appoint one.
Rosenstein, a veteran federal prosecutor who most recently served as the U.S. attorney in Maryland, was confirmed in a nearly-unanimous bipartisan vote in April. But amid reports that he was directed by Trump to draft a justification for firing Comey, and that Comey had asked him just days ago for more resources for the bureau’s Russia investigation, Senate Democrats now say he can’t be trusted.
“I think that at this point, given the very strange style of what was done yesterday, a style that was incredibly unprofessional and unbelievable, that we can’t count on him to be somebody who presents a fair administration of justice,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told TPM.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) voiced similar concerns, asking: “Given the engagement by the Deputy Attorney General and the real questions about his role in the firing, can we get a special counsel appointed not by Rosenstein but by the most senior career prosecutor at the Department of Justice?”
After Senate Democrats huddled behind closed doors Wednesday morning, and employed procedural tactics to shut down other Senate business, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to the floor to argue that “serious doubt has been cast on Mr. Rosenstein’s impartiality.”
“Mr. Rosenstein and other political appointees should not be the ones making the call on a special prosecutor, lest that decision be seen as influenced, or worse, made at the direction of the Administration,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, agreed, telling reporters that Rosenstein was “put in a position and carried as sort of the executioner of Comey, which I’ve got to say surprised me.”
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has shown no willingness to allow a special prosecutor to be brought in, telling reporters Wednesday that it wasn’t necessary. Some top Republicans in Congress parroted this line, and also spoke out in defense of Rosenstein.
“I think we ought to give Mr. Rosenstein a chance to demonstrate he’s capable of leading that role at the Department of Justice, understanding our role in the Congress is not to pursue a case,” Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said on the Senate floor.
“I remember hearing from…Democrats who were praising Rod Rosenstein and saying he was exactly the kind of person we needed in the sensitive job as deputy attorney general,” he continued. “But now our colleagues seem to forget their very own conviction and vote on Rod Rosenstein and say he can’t be fair.”
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.