Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general, who would serve as second-in-command in the Justice Department if confirmed, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning that he cannot commit to appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election or the Trump campaign’s possible complicity in those efforts.
Rod Rosenstein, currently the U.S. attorney for Maryland, would be in charge of deciding whether to appoint a special prosecutor, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he would recuse himself from any investigation into the Trump campaign.
Rosenstein was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein whether, given “the strong potential” that an investigation into Russian interference in the election “will in fact involve individuals associated with the White House,” and “the heightened level of distrust on all sides,” he supports the “appointment of an independent special counsel to look into” the situation.
Rosenstein replied by saying he is not in a position to weigh in at this point because he doesn’t know all the relevant facts and cannot possibly know them until he familiarizes himself, in his capacity as deputy AG, with whatever investigation might be taking place. He noted that Dana Boente—a U.S. attorney who was appointed acting deputy attorney general after Trump fired Obama holdover Sally Yates—currently has the authority to call for a special counsel and has not done so. “I wouldn’t be in a position to overrule” Boente’s judgment, Rosenstein said, before “having access to the facts” that judgment is based on.
Rosenstein did say that he doesn’t presume Boente’s judgment is correct and is open to arriving at a different one when he is confirmed.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Pat Leahy brought up the 1973 confirmation hearing of Attorney General Elliot Richardson, noting that he committed to appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal if confirmed. Leahy asked Rosenstein whether it would “raise challenges” for him if, while conducting an investigation into Russian meddling in the election, he turned up “communications between those under investigation and your own boss.”
Rosenstein replied, “Yes, it would, senator.”