Republican allies of President Donald Trump attacked the FBI’s probe of his 2016 presidential campaign on Wednesday, but failed to get a key witness to agree that former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was unfounded.
At the opening of the hearing, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended his 2017 decision to appoint Mueller to investigate Russian election interference and numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“I still believe it was the right decision under the circumstances.”
Under oath - Rosenstein told a Senate panel that he was unaware, at the time, of any factual problems with warrant applications he approved for FBI surveillance of Trump's 2016 campaign officials.
"Every application that I approved appeared to be justified based on the facts it alleged, and the FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified."
But he acknowledged that he later became aware of problems:
"Investigative reviews published by the Inspector General in December 2019 and March of 2020 - those investigative reviews revealed that the FBI was not following the protocols."
Republicans, led by panel Senator Lindsey Graham, blasted the probe - code named 'Crossfire Hurricane' - saying the president’s campaign was treated unfairly.
(GRAHAM): "This investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, was one of the most corrupt, biased, criminal investigations in the history of the FBI and we would like to see something done about it."
But Rosenstein defended the investigation:
(ROSENSTEIN): “I talked to Mr Mueller at that time and subsequently about the importance of making sure that everybody on his investigation understood that whatever their political views, they needed to set that aside and make sure the investigation was not affected by any bias."
(FEINSTEIN): "And do you believe that was carried out?"
(ROSENSTEIN): "I do, because I have confidence in Mr. Mueller’s integrity.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein - the panel’s top Democrat - accused Senate Republicans of trying to help Trump attack both the Russia probe that overshadowed his presidency and Joe Biden at an already tumultuous time.
"Congress should not conduct politically motivated investigations designed to attack or help any presidential candidate. Period. This would be true at any time but even more so now as our nation confronts the brutal police killing of George Floyd and its aftermath and remains in the middle of a public health and economic crisis."
The Justice Department inspector general found numerous errors in the Crossfire Hurricane probe, including mistakes in seeking surveillance approval, but no political bias.