Cicilline Questions Rosenstein on President’s Attempts to Undermine Robert Mueller

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

WASHINGTON – During today’s House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) questioned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the efforts undertaken by President Trump and his allies to discredit the Special Counsel’s investigation.

“We need to hear your voice defending the integrity of this Department, the rule of law, the independence of this investigation because the very future of our democracy is at stake if you fail to do that,” Cicilline told Rosenstein.

A video can be viewed by clicking here. A transcript of the exchange is embedded at the end of this release.

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Cicilline: In February, the Department of Justice changed its litigation position in Veasey v. Abbott, the Texas photo ID case. Did you have any involvement in the decision to reverse the Justice Department's long-standing position in this case that the Texas voter ID law was intentionally discriminatory?

Rosenstein: No, I did not.

Cicilline: In August, the Department of Justice changed its litigation position in the case Husted v. 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 that time, but I don't believe I had any involvement in the decision.

Cicilline: And were you involved in the Justice Department’s decision to file an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. 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 described 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.

Rosenstein: Correct.

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?

Rosenstein: Correct.

Cicilline: And 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 the President. You disagree it's a witch hunt. The President’s wrong, correct?

Rosenstein: I do not know what the President meant by that, Congressman. I can only answer for myself.

Cicilline: Do you believe that the repeated attacks on the credibility of Special Counsel Mueller, whether by conservative pundits on TV or by my colleagues here in Congress, 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 that anybody says.

Cicilline: You delivered remarks on October 25th before the U.S. 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 Investigation 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.

And 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 it. 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: 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. 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. That 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’ve 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. Nobody is giving me…

Cicilline: I'll end with this, Mr. Deputy Attorney General. We have heard you very proudly here talk about the integrity of the Department of Justice and the work of the FBI. We heard Director Wray say the same thing.

These two agencies, the FBI and the Department of Justice, are in the midst of an unprecedented attack by individuals who are trying to undermine the credibility of this independent counsel's investigation. These are the same group of individuals who praised Robert Mueller when he was appointed. Spectacular! Was praised uniformly.

And now the only thing that's changed is two indictments, two pleas. Michael Flynn, part of the President's inner circle, now cooperating with the government. That's the only thing that's changed. We need to hear your voice defending the integrity of this Department, the rule of law, the independence of this investigation because the very future of our democracy is at stake if you fail to do that.

And so I urge you to do so. And with that, I yield back. 

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