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Continuing Coverage of House Juidiciary Hearing with Deputy Atty Gen Rosenetein. Aired 12n-12:30p ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 12:00   ET


REP. TED POE, R-TEXAS: -- until we find out from the intelligence community where there are no indictments --


-- that have been issued against the intelligence community based upon the statements that you have made to see whether or not they're violating the law, and they refuse to give this committee the information about how many people have been caught up in that. And we have been stonewalled from the intelligence community saying we just can't do it.

Why can't the intelligence community get some geek over at Best Buy and have them come in and answer that question with a few little taps into the big computer system? We just want the number.

GOODLATTE: The time of the Gentleman has expired. The witness may answer the question.

ROSENSTEIN: As I explained, Congressman, I have heard Director Coates explain this. And he's better positioned than I.

POE: So we don't know. Still don't know. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: The Chair thanks the Gentleman. The Gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Gutierrez is recognized five minutes.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to ask you about sexual assault by the President of the United States of America. Over the past few days, echoing previous allegations made against the President in the past several years, at least 16 women have come forward to say that the President of the United States felt them up, kissed them without permission, put his hands under their clothing without permission, groped them, touched their genitalia, walked into dressing rooms unannounced to see them naked, and made other unwanted sexual advances that to everyone are clear violations of the law.

Now, I believe the women. And I generally give the women and their word a lot of weight. And when the him in question is Donald Trump, there really should be no further discussion because as everybody, regardless of their political affiliations or partisanship can clearly see, we have a man in the presidency who has a very difficult relationship with the truth.

In this case, we have women who were made to feel powerless and insignificant, who at great personal cost and risk to come forward. And I believe them. I do. Al Franken is resigning from the Senate. And it goes no further than this committee where two senior members resigned because women came forward and made credible claims. That just happened last week. And others on this dais right now are among the additional members of the body who are accused, credibly accused of misconduct. Right now, with the number two person in the justice department before our committee and sworn to tell the truth, I think it's important to get your opinion on whether there are grounds for criminal investigation or an ethics investigation against the President of the United States of America.

For example, Rachel Crooks is one of the 16 women that we know of who have come forward. She said that President Trump before he was President, quote, kissed me directly on the mouth. It was so inappropriate, he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that, end quote. Jill Harth, another one of the 16 women said, quote, he groped me. He absolutely groped me, and he just slipped his hand there, touching my private parts, end quote. Now, these are just two examples of unwelcome sexual advances. I think were he on the subway or in a restaurant, would not either or both of these incidents be enough to get him arrested? In your experience as the number two most important law enforcement officer in the United States?

But before you answer that, how about these cases? Kristen Anderson in an interview said, quote, the person on my right who unbeknownst to me at the time was Donald Trump, put their hand up my skirt. He did touch my vagina through my underwear, end quote. And Cassandra Searless said he continually groped my ass and invited me to his hotel room, end quote.

These are very serious allegations of crimes committed by the President, are they not? but before you answer the question, I think it's important to point out that these stories are corroborated by one of the most important witnesses of all, the President himself corroborates this. He told TV host Billy Bush when he was mic'ed up for an interview with Entertainment Tonight, quote, I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet, I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. He continued and said grab him by -- you know what he said. You can do anything, end quote.

Samantha Holvey said on national television when she was a contestant in a beauty contest, Trump would come back unannounced to the dressing room. she tells her story, and once again, we have audio tape of the President corroborating this account, when he told Howard Stern, well, quote, I'll tell you, the funniest is before a show, I'll go backstage and everyone is getting dressed. And everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, but I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner. And he went on to say the chicks will be almost naked, end quote.

Mr. Rosenstein, I see you as a law enforcement officer. And I value your opinion on these matters. Would it be appropriate for you to investigate these and other allegations of assault and unwanted sexual advances by the President of the United States?

ROSENSTEIN: Congressman, I am happy to take any questions regarding oversight of the Department of Justice. With regard to that matter or any other allegation that you think warrants investigation, I will invite you to submit the evidence and the department will review it if you believe there's a federal crime. That applies to any alleged violation by any person. And that's all I have to say about that.

GUTIERREZ: But Mr. Rosenstein, you're the number two top law enforcement officer in the nation. Let me ask you, if a person on a train went and kissed a woman, is that a crime?

ROSENSTEIN: If it's a federal train, it might be a federal crime, Congressman.

GUTIERREZ: It's Amtrak.

ROSENSTEIN: Just not going to answer.


GUTIERREZ: It's Amtrak.

ROSENSTEIN: It wouldn't be appropriate for me to answer any...


GUTIERREZ: Wouldn't be appropriate? You think -- as the number two law enforcement officer, you don't think it's a crime for a woman to be on a train, be in a restaurant sitting and a stranger unwanted, a stranger would come up to her and grope her and kiss her, that's not a crime?

ROSENSTEIN: Sir, if you ask me --

GOODLATTE: The time of the Gentleman has expired. The witness may answer the question.

ROSENSTEIN: I would have to know the facts and evaluate the law. I have never prosecuted a case like that in federal court, Congressman. But if you have an allegation by any person at any time, you should feel free to submit it.

GUTIERREZ: The women have made the allegations.


GOODLATTE: The time of the Gentleman has expired. The Chair recognizes the Gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Marino for five minutes.

MARINO: Thank you, Chairman. deputy Attorney General, it's good to see you again.

ROSENSTEIN: Thank you.

MARINO: We do a lot of good work together over the years.

ROSENSTEIN: Yes, sir. MARINO: And I'm proud of it, and I'm still proud to tell people I was

part of the justice department. Actually, I have a strong bias for the justice department. I know your character. I know what kind of man you are. And I have the most confidence in you that you will direct that agency to follow the rule of law and to see that everything is above board. 99.99% of the people that I worked with there are good, honest, law enforcement people and I have ultimate respect for them. They helped me on many cases even when I was a D.A.

I do would like to ask you to clarify a procedure. And first of all, would you tell me if I'm right here? Special Counsel is appointed by the Attorney General, or under the circumstances, by you, and that Special Counsel reports to you.


MARINO: Am I correct in saying that an independent counsel is again appointed by the Attorney General or you, but that counsel is independent and not report to anyone in the essence of can I do A, B, or C, is that correct?

ROSENSTEIN: Under the independent counsel statute that lapsed in 1999, the appointment would be made by a federal judge. So there would be no role for the department in the selection or oversight.

MARINO: DOJ wouldn't be involved in it at all?


MARINO: Let's talk a moment about, I have been in many interviews with FBI agents, DEA agents, concerning potential cases. And what I have seen handled was above board, but would you explain to the committee what a 302 is.

ROSENSTEIN: Yes, a 302 is simply the form number for an FBI interview report. So after conducting a witness interview, FBI agent would write a summary of the interview. we refer to that as a form 302.

MARINO: And during an interview, whether it's done by attorneys or investigators at the Department of Justice or it's done back in my district in the middle of Pennsylvania, at some point, is there usually an assistant US Attorney present in those interviews?

ROSENSTEIN: There's no rule against it, Congressman, but typically not. I would say the majority of interviews would be conducted by two agents without a prosecutor.

MARINO: Who makes the final determination on whether immunity is granted? Is that by the US attorney or the attorney at the justice department who could perhaps be handling that case?

ROSENSTEIN: That's correct. It would be a prosecutor who would need to make that determination, and depending upon what type of immunity it might require a higher level of review.

MARINO: And before any immunity is given to anyone, whether it's absolute or not, we in law enforcement look for a proffer, is that correct, from that individual or their attorney? What are you going to tell us, why should we give you immunity?

ROSENSTEIN: We have a strong preference for obtaining a proffer prior to any grant of immunity. We don't always do it, but we have a strong preference for it.

MARINO: I have never been in a situation, and perhaps it's not unique, where immunity has been given where there has not been a proffer. Is that -- would that be an extreme unusual situation where someone would say immunity, but we have no idea what they're going to say?

ROSENSTEIN: I wouldn't want to characterize it, Congressman, as a US attorney, I had to approve formal immunity, and the majority of the cases, there had been a proffer. If there wasn't a proffer, I typically would ask why. So I can't characterize what percentage of cases might fall into that category.

MARINO: And also, any evidence that would be collected such as laptops, computers, things of that nature pursuant to the investigation, there would be a thorough investigation of that equipment before immunity would be given to someone.

ROSENSTEIN: It would depend upon the circumstances, Congressman. We have to make a determination of whether we believe whether the data might be relevant to the decision.

MARINO: Right, but there is -- we just don't give blanket immunity because someone asked for it or just to get them in to talk.

ROSENSTEIN: We could not give immunity just because somebody asks for it, correct.

MARINO: That's all I have. Thank you very much for being here, and I know you'll keep an eye on things and keep everything above board. It's a pleasure to see you again. I yield back.

ROSENSTEIN: Likewise, thank you.

GOODLATTE: I thank the Gentleman. The Chair recognizes the Gentleman from Florida, Mr. Deutch.

DEUTCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

There has been a lot of talk about dates and timeline but I would like to actually just walk through for the benefit of my colleagues a short timeline from this year. In January, the FBI, CIA, and NSA concluded the following and I quote, we assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US Presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine faith in the US process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assessed Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for P resident Trump. Close quote. Mr. Rosenstein, could you give any reason to dispute that?


DEUTCH: In January, also in January, January 24th, Michael Flynn denied to the FBI agents that he discussed US sanctions with Russia before he took office. on January 26th, acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House counsel that Flynn lied about the nature of his calls with Kislyak and is vulnerable to blackmail. On February 13th of this year, Flynn resigned of his conversations with the vice President. On February 15th, public reports of telephone records shows members of the Trump campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. On March 16th, documents released by Representative Cummings showed the Flynn received $33,700 from Russia's state-owned TV for a speech that he made in Moscow. On March 20th, the FBI director acknowledged an investigation in a possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

On May 9th, the President fired the FBI director. On May 10th, Trump met with Russian diplomats in the White House and revealed classified information and told them he fired the head of the FBI, called him a nut job, and said and I quote, I face great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off. Close quote. On May 11th, the President told NBC News that the Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.

On June 7th, we learned President Trump urged Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. on July 8th, we learned of an undisclosed Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer. the next day, five sources stated that Donald Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting on the premise that damaging information on Hillary Clinton would be provided, and five days after that, a veteran of the Russian military, we learned, also attended the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner.

On October the 5th, George Papadopoulos, one of the five people the President identified as a policy advisor pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI on January 27th about the timing, extent, and nature of relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals. In the statement of offense, we learned that he reached out regarding his connections that he could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. On October 27th, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign adviser, Rick Gates were indicted on multiple counts including conspiracy against the United States.

In November, the President of the United States met with Vladimir Putin and said, and I quote, he said he didn't meddle. He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. Every time he sees me, he says I didn't do that. And I really believe that. When he tells me that, he means it. The President went on to say, I mean, give me a break talking about the national security folks who put together that report that I quoted earlier. Give me a break. They are political hacks.

On December 1st, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions. This is a little walkthrough what happened over the past year. I would like to ask you, Mr. Rosenstein, I would like to quote some of my colleagues from this committee. one said that the Special Counsel's investigation into whether the Trump campaign assisted in its efforts to interfere in the election is an attempt to overthrow the government of the United States.

Do you believe that, Mr. Rosenstein?


DEUTCH: He said we're at risk of a coup d'etat in this country if we allow an unaccountable person, Special Counsel unaccountable here?

ROSENSTEIN: No, he's not unaccountable.

DEUTCH: He went on to say with no oversight. Is there no oversight at all with the Special Counsel?

ROSENSTEIN: There is oversight.

DEUTCH: Then he went on to say that if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly elected President of the United States, is pursuing a rule of law undermining the dually elected President of the United States? Mr. Rosenstein?

ROSENSTEIN: No it is not.

DEUTCH: One of my other colleagues said we have to clean this town up. He talked about firing Mueller. One of our former colleagues on this committee accused Mueller of having a vendetta against Trump because he fired James Comey. Mr. Rosenstein, do you believe he has a vendetta against the President?

ROSENSTEIN: No, I do not.

DEUTCH: I would just conclude that this little walkthrough, this one year in American history, makes it impossible to understand how it is that my colleagues on the other side continue to launch attacks, not only against reporters, against the FBI, against the Special Counsel, but they do so to throw dirt on the story, to make it try to go away. They may want to bury their heads in the sand, but Mr. Chairman, I want to make clear that they will not bury the rule of law in the United States of America and I yield back.

GOODLATTE: The Gentleman's time has expired. The Chair recognizes the Gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Gowdy, for five minutes.

GOWDY: Thank you, Judge Poe, there are a lot of issues I would like to ask you about, Mr. Deputy Attorney General. We had a terrorist incident in New York this week. We have 702 reauthorization that is pending in Congress, gun violence, the opioid epidemic, criminal justice reform. But when I go home to South Carolina this weekend, trust me when I tell you, no one is going to ask me about any of those issues. They're going to ask me, what in the hell is going on with the Department of Justice and the FBI? The reason we have Special Counsel, and this is a very important

point, and you know it, the reason we have Special Counsel is because of a conflict of interest. The regulation itself specifically makes reference to a conflict of interest, and we don't like conflicts of interest because it undercuts people's confidence in both the process and the result. So let's be really clear why we have Special Counsel.

It was either a real or perceived conflict of interest that we were fearful would either impact the result or people's confidence in the process. That's why we have something called Special Counsel. And that's why we have Special Counsel in this fact pattern, and then lo and behold, those who are supposed to make sure there are no conflicts of interest seem to have a few of their own. There's a senior prosecutor who sent obsequious e-mails to a fact witness. She could be described as nothing other than a fact witness. She's a really important fact witness if you pursue the line of inquiry that my Democrat friends want to pursue, they got off collusion and now they're on obstruction of justice. She may be the most important fact witness in an obstruction of justice case and the senior prosecutor for this conflict of interest free Special Counsel sent a fawning obsequious e-mail to a fact witness.

And then we have prosecutors assigned to conduct this investigation who donated almost exclusively to one candidate over another. And then we have a prosecutor assigned to this conflict of interest free team that attended what was supposed to be, what he had hoped to be a victory party for Secretary Clinton. And we have a senior DOJ official, Mr. Deputy Attorney General, with an office that used to be two doors down from yours. Meeting with Fusion GPS, and Fusion GPS, of course, was paying for Russian dirt on the very person that they're supposed to be objectively investigating.

And then that same senior DOJ official's wife, the one that met with Fusion GPS, his wife was on the payroll of Fusion GPS. And then we have a senior agent assigned to investigate Secretary Clinton's e- mail, help draft the exoneration letter, what would change the language from grossly negligent to extremely careless. Interviewed Secretary Clinton in an interview I have never seen and I doubt you have either in your career as a prosecutor, interviewed Michael Flynn, was actively involved in the investigation into the Trump campaign before the inspector general found his texts.

So this agent in the middle of almost everything related to Secretary Clinton and President Trump sent pro-Clinton texts, anti-Trump texts to his paramour, in response to being told maybe he is where he is to protect the country from that menace, Donald Trump, he said, I can protect our country at many levels. and then he said, Hillary Clinton should win 100 million to nothing. Think about that, Mr. deputy Attorney General. That's a pretty overwhelming victory. 100 million to zero. And when I read that last night, what I thought was, this conflict of interest free senior agent of the FBI can't think of a single solitary American who would vote for Donald Trump. that's where the zero comes in. Not a single solitary American he can imagine would vote for Donald Trump. this is the conflict of interest free special agent assigned. And then he went on, if that weren't enough, to belittle Trump

supporters by saying he could smell them at a Wal-Mart in Virginia. This is the person we needed to avoid a conflict of interest. And then he said this they fully deserve to go and demonstrate the absolute bigoted nonsense of Trump. But he wasn't content to just disparage Donald Trump. He had to disparage Donald Trump's family. This is what he said, Mr. Deputy Attorney General. He said the douche bags are about to come out. He's talking about our first lady and children. This conflict of interest free special agent of the FBI.

This is who we were told we needed to have an objective, impartial, fair, conflict of interest free investigation. So he's openly pulling for the candidate he had a role in clearing, and he's openly investigating a candidate that he has bias against, and then if that's not enough, he says Trump is an f'ing idiot. What the f just happened to our country. This is the same man who said he would save our country.

What happens when people who are supposed to clear the conflict of interest have even greater conflicts of interests than those they replace? That's not a rhetorical question. You nor I nor anyone else would ever sit Peter Strzok on a jury, we wouldn't have him objectively dispassionately investigate anything knowing what we know now. Why didn't we know it ahead of time, and the last question, my final question to you, and I appreciate The Chairman's patience, how would you help me answer that question when I go back to South Carolina this weekend?

ROSENSTEIN: Congressman, first of all, with regard to the Special Counsel, Mr. Strzok was already working on the investigation when the Special Counsel was appointed. The appointment I made was of Robert Mueller. What I recommend that you tell your constituents is that Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray are accountable and that we will ensure that no bias is reflected in any of the actions taken by the Special Counsel or in any matter, within the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. When we have evidence of any inappropriate conduct, we're going to take action on it. And that's what Mr. Mueller did here as soon as he learned about this issue. He took action and that's what I anticipate that the rest of our prosecutors, our new group of US attorneys, our justice department appointees, they understand the rules, and they understand the responsibility to defend the integrity of the department.

If they find evidence of improper conduct, they're going to take action.

So Congressman, that's the best assurance I can give you. But actually, there's one other point, which is you should tell your constituents that we exposed this issue because we're ensuring that the inspector general conducts a thorough and effective investigation and if there is any evidence of inpropriety, he's going to surface it and report about it publicly.


GOODLATTE: The time of the Gentleman's time has expired. The Chair recognize the Gentleman from Rhode Island, Mr. Cicilline for five minutes.

CICILLINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you, Mr. Rosenstein. In February, the Department of Justice changed its litigation position in Veasey versus Abbott, a Texas photo ID case. Did you have any involvement in the decision to reverse the justice department's long standing position in this case of the Texas Voter ID law was intentionally discriminatory?

ROSENSTEIN: No, I do not.

CICILLINE: In august, the department of Justice changed its litigation position in the case of Husted versus A Philip Randolph Institute. The justice department is now defending Ohio's voter purging law. Were you involved in the decision to change this litigation position, and now side with the voter purging law?

ROSENSTEIN: I was at the department at the time, but I don't believe I had any involvement in the decision.

CICILLINE: Were you involved in the Justice Department decision to file an Amicus brief on Masterpiece Cakeshop versus Colorado Civil Rights Commission on behalf of the baker who seeks to deny baking wedding cakes to same-sex couples.

ROSENSTEIN: That decision was made by our inspector general -- pardon me, our solicitor general.

CICILLINE: You describe the Special Counsel as a heroic figure who served his country a career prosecutor, someone who was confirmed unanimously as FBI director, someone of extraordinary reputation, service, and patriotism.

I take it your judgment on Mr. Mueller has not changed today.


CICILLINE: And you would not have appointed a Special Counsel or appointed Mr. Mueller if you thought he was going to engage in a witch hunt, correct?


CICILLINE: So you then would disagree with the President's labeling of the Special Counsel's investigation as a witch hunt, I assume.

ROSENSTEIN: I don't know exactly what the President meant by that, Congressman. The Special Counsel's investigation is not a witch hunt.

CICILLINE: It's not a witch hunt. The President said it is. You disagree. You're supposed to be independent. You can answer a question contrasting with the President. You disagree it's a witch hunt. The President is wrong, correct?

ROSENSTEIN: I don't know what the President meant by that comment and I can only answer for myself. CICILLINE: Do you believe the repeated attacked on the credibility

of Special Counsel Mueller whether by conservative pundits on TV or by my colleagues threatens to undermine the credibility of the independent investigation?

ROSENSTEIN: The independence and integrity of the investigation is not going to be affected by anything anybody says.

CICILLINE: You delivered remarks on October 25th before the US chamber of commerce, and I quote, you said if we permit the rule of law to erode when it does not directly harm our personal interest, the erosion may eventually consume us as well. The rule of law is not self executing, if it collapses, if the people lose faith in the rule of law, then everyone will suffer, end quote.

In the context of the President's attacks, the American people are really witnessing an unprecedented attack on our democratic institutions by this President. First, diminishing the seriousness of the investigation, which is under way about Vladimir Putin's interference in our elections. Attacks on the judiciary, attacks on the free press. The one institution, which continues to enjoy broad public support and remains key to protecting the rule of law is the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice.

America is counting on your integrity and your commitment to protecting the independence of the Special Counsel to reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law. So when you said just a moment ago that you don't have an opinion about a loyalty oath from the President being asked of people, it might be useful to remind you, sir, that members of the Department of Justice take an oath to the constitution. And so a loyalty oath to the President of the United States is inappropriate for any President to ask for and for anyone to swear. Do you agree?

ROSENSTEIN: Congressman, nobody has asked me for a loyalty oath.

CICILLINE: That's not my question, sir. My question is, you are here to demonstrate the independence of your office. And you are unwilling to say that an oath to the President of the United States rather than to the constitution is not inappropriate? That does not inspire a lot of confidence.

ROSENSTEIN: No, I did not say that, an oath to the President of the United States, rather than the constitution, would be inappropriate.

CICILLINE: An oath to the President of the United States, period, is not appropriate?

ROSENSTEIN: Congressman, you're talking about a hypothetical. It's not clear what was asked or what was said.

CICILLINE: You also --

ROSENSTEIN: As long as you are following your oath of office, you can also be faithful to the administration. CICILLINE: Faithful is not the question. I'll move to a new question.

You also said you would not respond to the question to say whether or not the President of the United States had asked you to initiate criminal prosecutions against political adversaries. You would not disclose whether or not those conversations took place.

ROSENSTEIN: I said I would disclose if I was told to do something improper.

CICILLINE: What if you were encouraged to do something improper? What if you were encouraged to initiate a criminal investigation? That's not appropriate to do, is it?

ROSENSTEIN: Several of your colleagues on both sides have encouraged me today, Congressman, and as I have explained, I'm going to base my decisions on the facts and the law.

CICILLINE: I understand that, Mr. Rosenstein, but the action of a President to encourage you to initiate a criminal prosecution, separate of what you will do with that, that very action is not appropriate.

ROSENSTEIN: You're free to make that judgment.

CICILLINE: I'm asking you in your judgment. Isn't that inappropriate?

ROSENSTEIN: My judgment is it would be inappropriate for somebody to order me to do something.

CICILLINE: But it wouldn't be inappropriate for your supervisor, the person you serve, the President of the United States, to tell you or suggest to you or encourage you to initiate a criminal prosecution against a political adversary?

ROSENSTEIN: Congressman, I think I have been very clear about this that nobody is giving me any improper orders.


CICILLINE: I'll just end with this, Mr. Deputy Attorney General.