Deputy AG Rosenstein: Mueller Probe ‘Is Not A Witch Hunt’

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks before a House Committee on the Judiciary oversight hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 in Washington. Two FBI officials who would later be assigned to the special counsel's investigation into Donald Trump's presidential campaign described him with insults like "idiot" and "loathsome human" in a series of text messages last year, according to copies of the messages released Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik/AP

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pushed back at one of President Trump’s favorite talking points by telling lawmakers Wednesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was “not a witch hunt.”

He declined to say whether Trump was wrong in making that claim.

The comment came in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on DOJ oversight, where on multiple occasions Rosenstein defended Mueller and his probe, which Rosenstein has oversight of due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal. Republicans have amped up their efforts to cast doubt on Mueller and the DOJ writ large, as the investigation has secured charges against four Trump associates.

Earlier in the hearing, Rosenstein said that at the current time he saw no good cause for firing Mueller — a reference to DOJ regulations limiting when special counsels can be fired — as he was questioned about the scenario by Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

“If you were ordered today to fire Mr. Mueller, what would do?” Nadler asked.

“As I’ve explained previously, I would follow regulations. If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not,” Rosenstein said.

“And you see no good cause so far?” Nadler continued.

“Correct,” Rosenstein said.

Republicans at the hearing zeroed in on anti-Donald Trump texts that Peter Strzok — a top FBI agent who worked on the Russia probe as well as the Hillary Clinton email investigation — sent another DOJ official during the campaign. The texts were revealed as part of a Justice Department inspector general investigation into the DOJ’s handling of matters related to the presidential race, and Strzok was booted from Mueller’s team upon the texts’ discovery

Rosenstein told Nadler that Mueller acted appropriately in removing Strzok from his team.

Rosenstein batted down GOP lawmakers’ suggestions that other Mueller team attorneys’ donations to Democratic candidates amounted to an appearance of bias in the investigation.

“I’m not aware of impropriety,” Rosenstein told Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “We do have regulations. The special counsel is subject to all the Department’s rules and subject to oversight by the Department, including the inspector general.  I’m not aware of any violation of those rules by the special counsel employees.”

Rosenstein repeatedly denied that attorneys on Mueller’s team having political opinions meant that they were biased in their investigation.

We recognize we have employees with political opinions. It’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions,” Rosenstein told Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH). “I believe that Director Mueller understands that and that he is running that office appropriately, recognizing that people have political views, but ensuring those views are not in any way a factor in how they conduct themselves in office.”

Rosenstein was effusive in his praise for Mueller, telling lawmakers that it would be hard to find someone else “better qualified for this job.”