Justice official defends Mueller, sees no cause for firing
WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, facing congressional questions about anti-Donald Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI officials assigned to the Russia probe, defended special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday and said he had seen no cause to fire him and had not been pressured to do so.
Rosenstein appeared before the House Judiciary Committee one day after the Justice Department provided congressional committees with hundreds of text messages between an FBI counterintelligence agent assigned to Mueller’s team and an FBI lawyer who was on the same detail.
Those messages, which occurred before Mueller was appointed in May to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, show the officials using words like “idiot” and “loathsome human” to characterize Trump as he was running for president in 2016. One of the officials said in an election night text that the prospect of a Trump victory was “terrifying.”
The disclosures of the text messages added to concerns among members of Congress that Mueller’s team is tainted by political bias.
But when Rosenstein was asked by lawmakers if he had seen good cause to fire Mueller, whom he appointed and whose work he oversees, he replied that he had not. Rosenstein also defended the credentials of Mueller, a former FBI director, and said he was an appropriate choice to run the Justice Department’s Russia investigation after the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“The special counsel’s investigation is not a witch hunt,” Rosenstein said in response to questions about whether he agreed with Trump’s characterization of the probe. “The independence and integrity of the investigation are not going to be affected by anything that anyone says.”
Peter Strzok, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, was removed over the summer from Mueller’s team following the discovery of text messages exchanged with Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer who was also detailed this year to the group of agents and prosecutors investigating potential coordination between Russia and Trump’s Republican campaign.
“When we have evidence of any inappropriate conduct, we’re going to take action on it. That’s what Mr. Mueller did here. As soon as he learned about this issue, he took action,” Rosenstein said.
Hundreds of the messages, which surfaced in a Justice Department inspector general investigation of the FBI’s inquiry into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, were being provided to congressional committees and were reviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday night.
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