Rod Rosenstein in the House Judiciary Committee hot seat over Conflicts of Interests

The second-highest ranking official at the Justice Department stepped back into the national spotlight Wednesday to defend his department as a growing chorus of Republicans raise questions over political influence at the agency.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein might have a conflict of interest over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller could have his own conflict issues as well.

What might normally have been a routine oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is now taking on a new focus in light of the roughly 375 politically-charged text messages exchanged between two top FBI employees that were turned over to congressional investigators late Tuesday evening.
The text messages demonstrated a bias in the FBI amid Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation of Russia.
In one message from March 2016, Page called then-candidate Donald Trump“a loathsome human” — and in another, Strzok wrote “F Trump.” Others indicated Strok and Page favored Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Another Text message they said they can smell the stench of Trump supporters in front of Wal-Mart.

 

The Justice Department said Tuesday the messages were made available to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the House judiciary panel chairman, after they were obtained by the department’s Inspector General.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have suggested that potential biases within the FBI have unfairly influenced investigations — including the probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said he wants to see all Justice Department documents that could reveal any “politically motivated misconduct” at the FBI.

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte previewed he would be asking Rosenstein about about Peter Strzok, one of the FBI’s top counterintelligence experts, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page exchanged a running commentary of criticism of then-presidential candidate Trump via text message for months.
In August 2015, Page an avid Clinton supporter wrote to Strzok, “I just saw my first Bernie Sander [SIC] bumper sticker. Made me want to key the car.” Strzok replied, “He’s an idiot like Trump. Figure they cancel each other out.”

Strzok wonders in March 2016 whether Mr. Trump would “be a worse president than (Ted) Cruz?” Page responds, “Trump? Yes, I think so.” Strzok then says Mr. Trump is “awful” and “an idiot.”

On Election Day, Strzok expressed his dismay at seeing a map showing Mr. Trump winning — he called it “f*****g terrifying,” and a week after the election, Strzok and Page were also alarmed to see that Jeff Sessions was likely to be named attorney general.

“Sessions for AG,” Strzok texted, along with a profanity. Page replied, “Good god.”

During the campaign, Strzok led the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server while she was secretary of state and claimed nothing wrong was found.

These biased texts raise concerns about Strzok’s impartiality and will likely prompt more questions about his investigation into Clinton’s server.

Reports on the political predisposition, and potential bias, of certain career agents and department lawyers on Special Counsel Mueller’s team are deeply troubling to all citizens who expect a system of blind and equal justice,” Goodlatte said in his opening statement. “We are now beginning to better understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team.

Wednesday’s hearing gives lawmakers the opportunity to grill Rosenstein publicly on his views of everything from President Donald Trump’s cable news-fueled rages about the Justice Department’s handling of various investigations to Rosenstein’s oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Rosenstein — who retains oversight of Mueller’s investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all 2016 campaign-related probes — has managed to keep a low profile since his front and center role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey back in May.
I am very troubled by the recent controversy surrounding staff assigned to the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election,” said Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, in a statement before the hearing. “Another prosecutor, who remains on the special counsel’s team, has expressed views opposing President Trump’s agenda,” an apparent reference to Andrew Weissmann, who lauded former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend Trump’s original ban on travel to the US from several 
 Democrats were planning on using much of their questioning to paint the Republican attacks on the Russia probe as “conspiracy theories.”
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