Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 3. Rosenstein’s hearing was likely the first of several as Senate Republicans renew their quest to find out how and why the FBI in 2016 opened the Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation that targeted the campaign of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
By the time the hearing concluded, the former Justice Department number two may have been thinking about a quote attributed to Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” In fact, this quote probably derives from a fictional character depicting Truman in the 1975 play Give ’em Hell Harry: “You want a friend in life, get a dog!” Still, Rosenstein does not appear to have many friends on Capitol Hill or beyond, these days.
Rosenstein’s Main Points
As is the case with so many of these televised congressional hearings, no astounding new information was revealed. However, Rosenstein’s remarks and answers, taken as a whole, encompassed the following assertions: He was not aware when he signed off on affidavits for the renewal of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants that certain information contained in those documents was unverified. He was not aware that exculpatory material existed – material that cast doubt on the idea that any Trump campaign associates were working with the Russians.
The idea that Russia was engaged in an effort to ensure Trump’s election victory was, according to Rosenstein, a misunderstanding of Russian intentions.
Furthermore, the former DAG observed that Andrew McCabe, who was the FBI deputy director at the time and in charge of Crossfire Hurricane, was not entirely forthcoming with his boss at the DOJ. Rosenstein was halting in his answers about McCabe and refused to use the word “lied,” but he did say the FBI deputy head lacked candor – that is, McCabe did not disclose to Rosenstein certain information that would have changed the latter’s mind about signing off on the FISA renewals.
Indeed, Rosenstein very directly admitted that had he been aware of all the information available to others but not disclosed to him, he would not have signed the warrant renewal applications. He pointed out that, as DAG, it was not his job to personally vet the intelligence contained in the affidavits but to ensure that proper procedures were being followed.
For the cynical, that may be a gray area. Rosenstein points out, though, that he had been relying on the fact that those who compiled the renewal applications had done so in accordance with FISA requirements. As DAG, he is not going to interrogate FBI officials to ensure that every piece of information submitted is complete and accurate – that responsibility falls to those who are responsible for creating and approving the material before it goes to the DOJ.
Russia Is on Russia’s Side, Not Trump’s
Rosenstein faced sharp questioning from Republicans – including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. GOP frustration, matching that of President Trump, comes from what appears to be a continued lack of willingness on the part of anyone at Justice or the FBI to take responsibility. Crossfire Hurricane was a shambles, to say the least, from beginning to end, but, apparently, no-one in leadership at the DOJ or its premier law enforcement branch knew anything about the many errors, omissions, and behind-the-scenes conspiracies that marked the operation.
While confounding GOP Senators, Rosenstein also managed to frustrate Democrats by refusing to support their narrative that Russia sought to aid Trump in his White House bid:
“[B]ut I think it’s important, Senators, for us to keep in mind that it is established, I believe, that Russia’s efforts included disparaging Hillary Clinton, as you said. That doesn’t mean Russia is on the other candidate’s side. Russia is on Russia’s side.”
The former DAG said this in response to questions from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). It was an observation that Rosenstein made more than once during the hearing.
Following the hearing, McCabe, who was fired from the FBI and found to have “lacked candor” on multiple occasions, said in a statement: “Mr. Rosenstein’s claims to have been misled by me, or anyone from the FBI, regarding our concerns about President Trump and the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia are completely false.”
For their part, Democrats decried the hearing as a waste of time and, ironically, objected to what they considered to be its partisan nature. They contributed little to the discussion itself: instead, continuing to repeat the same accusations of Trump-Russia collusion that have been echoing around Capitol Hill for three years without supporting evidence.
Sen. Graham and company seem more determined than ever, though, to finally pinpoint the guilty. “Apparently we can’t hold anyone accountable, Mr. Chairman,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). “I’m glad we’re doing this, but we’ve got to hold somebody accountable.” Dogs may be in high demand in the nation’s capital over the next few months.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.