Facing a grilling during the House Committee on the Judiciary hearing this morning, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refused to say whether or not any member of the Obama administration tried to undermine President Donald Trump’s campaign leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
“What did the DOJ or FBI do in terms of collecting information, spying, or surveillance on the Trump campaign be it via Stefan Halper or anybody else working on behalf of the agencies?” GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida asked Rosenstein during a House Committee on the Judiciary hearing Thursday.
“As you know, congressman, I’m not permitted to discuss classified information in an open setting but I can assure you we are working with oversight committees and producing all relevant evidence to allow them to answer those questions,” Rosenstein answered.
Unsatisfied with Rosenstein’s response, DeSantis pressed him once again.
“Let me ask you this, then, did the Obama administration, anybody in the administration direct anybody, Halper or anybody, to make contact with anyone associated with the Trump campaign?” DeSantis asked.
“As I said, congressman, appreciate the — I understand your interest, I’m not permitted to discuss classified information,” Rosenstein said.
Watch the entire exchange below:
Rosenstein used the same argument as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the Justice Department’s fiercest critics, repeatedly asked questions centering on whether federal officials began collecting intelligence on the Trump campaign and Russia before launching its investigation in July 2016.
“Did any investigative activity regarding the Trump campaign and Russia occur before July 31, 2016?” Gaetz asked, noting this is the date the FBI initiated its counterintelligence investigation, according to the Democratic memo produced by the House Intelligence Committee.
“Congressman, as you know, we are dealing with the Intelligence Committee on that issue and Chairman [Devin] Nunes met with Director Wray and me. I received the same briefing that he received so I do not know any additional information beyond what he knows about that and I’m not able to produce any information beyond what the FBI has told me,” Rosenstein replied.
Gaetz also asked whether Rosenstein knew of any payments to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign before the FBI launched its probe.
“No, but keep in mind I wasn’t there. I only know the information we’ve obtained from the FBI records,” Rosenstein replied.
But, as The Hill reports, Rep. DeSantis was not done and suggested later in his questioning that Rosenstein should recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, pointing to the fact the deputy attorney general himself wrote the memo to President Trump recommending former FBI Director James Comey be fired.
“They talk about the Mueller investigation. It’s really the Rosenstein investigation. You appointed Mueller. You’re supervising Mueller, and it’s supposedly about collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia and obstruction of justice,” DeSantis said.
“But you wrote the memo saying that Comey should be fired and you signed the FISA extension for Carter Page. So, my question is to you, it seems like you should be recused from this more so than [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions just because you were involved in making decisions affecting both prongs of this investigation,” DeSantis continued. “Why haven’t you done that?”
Rosenstein responded he would recuse himself if “it were appropriate.”
“Congressman, I can assure you that if it were appropriate for me to recuse, I would be more than happy to do so,” Rosenstein said. “But, it’s my responsibility to do it.”
DeSantis drilled down, emphasizing that Mueller is said to be investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president in the Comey firing. While press reports have indicated that the special counsel is looking into possible obstruction of justice, officials have not spoken publicly about the lines of inquiry in the probe.
“I am not commenting on what is under investigation by the Mueller probe and to the best of my knowledge, neither is Mr. Mueller,” Rosenstein said.