Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told lawmakers Wednesday he wouldn’t have renewed a warrant to surveil a member of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign if he’d known there were questions about the FBI’s handling of documents in the case.
Rosenstein appeared before the Senate judiciary committee Wednesday to answer questions about the Justice Department’s two-year Russia investigation, called “Crossfire Hurricane.”
Senate Republicans have wanted for some time to question Rosenstein, who left his Justice Department post last year, about FBI surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page after it became known Russian actors had tried to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
In his testimony, Rosenstein stopped short of condemning the investigation but told Democratic senators he didn’t question the fairness of the inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller or the convictions it produced.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in December the FBI failed to adhere to “its own standards of accuracy and completeness” in its FISA warrant for Page. It added that the bureau still had plenty of evidence for the investigation, which looked for evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign but found none.
Rosenstein told committee Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham wouldn’t have authorized the warrant if he’d known about the flaws noted in Horowitz’s report.
“If you knew then what you know now, would you have signed the warrant application?” Graham asked.
“No. I would not,” Rosenstein answered.
Rosenstein is the first witness to testify as part of a new look by Senate Republicans at the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation.
On Wednesday, Rosenstein also addressed the “Steele dossier,” an unverified report from British agent Christopher Steele that detailed links between Trump’s camp and Russia. Republicans have long claimed the dossier, which was partly funded by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was a political tool.
In his testimony Wednesday, Rosenstein said the dossier was never part of the FISA application because it relied on verified information directly from Steele himself.
“What’s in that affidavit is verified,” he said. “The Steele dossier and all that nonsense in the media about the allegations that were made, that’s not in the FISA application.”
Rosenstein defended his decision to appoint Mueller to the case, saying it was the best way to”promote public confidence” and was consistent with precedent after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the inquiry due to potential conflicts of interest.
Horowitz’s report, released in March, found errors in an audit of the FBI’s compliance with factual accuracy review procedures for 29 FISA applications, including some related to surveillance of Page.
Some Senate Democrats opposed Wednesday’s hearing, characterizing it as a GOP effort to criticize the administration of former President Barack Obama and suggest a conspiracy against Trump.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell asking that the proceeding to be canceled.
“They have failed the American people by turning the institutions of the Senate into an extension of the president’s re-election campaign,” Schumer wrote. “[The] Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee will hold yet another hearing, not on the pandemic, bot on baseless conspiracy theories related to the 2016 election.”
Mueller said his investigation found no concrete evidence that Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia, but identified multiple “episodes” in which Trump may have obstructed justice by attempting to interfere in the department’s investigation.
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