Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Against the backdrop of a national crisis over race and law enforcement, the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to convene a hearing on Wednesday about the now-closed investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., appeared set to go ahead with a session scheduled before the flare in protests and violence that followed the death of a Minneapolis man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in an incident that reignited long-simmering anger at police in cities across the country.
The hearing is scheduled to commence at 10 a.m. ET. Watch it live here.
The sole witness is former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’ll likely be grilled about revelations about the Russia investigation that have come to light since he left the Justice Department last year.
The political context has evolved: Republicans want to tie former Vice President Joe Biden into what they call the abuses of power from the end of the Obama era.
Graham and Republicans want answers about what Rosenstein and other Justice Department leaders knew at the time they were taking fateful decisions about the FBI’s investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election, which sought to hinder Hillary Clinton and help elect then-candidate Donald Trump.
Rosenstein found himself in the center of a political vortex in the spring of 2017, not long after he’d been nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
His boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was a Trump loyalist and had recused himself from the Russian matter. The president had fired FBI Director James Comey.
In the midst of that febrile atmosphere, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as a special counsel and continue the Russia investigation.
Re-look after re-look has verified Mueller’s findings about the Russian interference, but the work of the FBI and Justice Department wasn’t found to be problem-free.
Issues with the FBI investigators involved and their dealings within officialdom, especially with the secret court that oversees government surveillance, have embarrassed the top levels of federal law enforcement.
Many Republicans have faulted Rosenstein since his earliest days over his appointment of Mueller. Now, Graham is bringing Rosenstein back to center stage at a time when Trump and other allies want to link Biden with intelligence collection that involved members of the Trump camp.
Biden’s camp has rejected the idea there were any abuses and pointed out that there was no way for administration officials to single out Americans in intelligence reporting because their names were hidden, or masked.
They were only identified after requests for more information about who was talking with existing targets, Biden’s campaign said.
That practice is legal and takes place thousands of times per year. Trump and allies have made it the basis of political attacks against Biden and others from that era.
Biden, in turn, has blasted Trump and Republicans for what he calls their attempt to distract attention from the most pressing challenges of the day — first the coronavirus pandemic and now the national unrest over police violence.
Democrats, who are in the minority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, likely will take up that theme on Wednesday.
Republicans are likely to press Rosenstein over what they call surveillance abuses and the subsequent findings by investigators about problems with the FBI’s practices at crucial junctures in the saga.
Rosenstein now is with the law firm King & Spalding but he has appeared before congressional inquisitors before. In the past, Rosenstein has said that he relied on lower-level investigators and attorneys and wasn’t involved with the operational details now known to be problematic.
Specifically, Rosenstein signed a request to continue surveillance on a former junior campaign aide to Trump, Carter Page, based on work product that has since been repudiated by internal investigators and the secret surveillance court. Those details didn’t become clear to the public until later.
That likely will be a major area of focus on Wednesday, along with other episodes that have since come to light from the early weeks of the Trump administration.
Graham, meanwhile, has sought to show the Judiciary Committee can keep many plates spinning at once.
The committee heard from witnesses on Tuesday about the deadly effects of the coronavirus within the federal prison system, and Graham also has planned a hearing later this month about policing, as a result of Floyd’s death.