Rod Rosenstein testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the origins of the investigation into connections between Russia and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Video Transcript

ROD ROSENSTEIN: Thank you, Chairman Graham, Ranking Member Feinstein, and other members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me to join you today. When I was sworn in as Deputy Attorney General on April 26, 2017, I became responsible for helping the attorney general to supervise 115,000 Department of Justice employees and to oversee hundreds of thousands of cases. One of the most important matters pending in the department was an investigation of Russian election influence schemes.

Attorney General Sessions had complied with his legal obligation to recuse himself from that investigation seven weeks before I arrived, and the matter had been under the supervision of Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente as a result. Many federal agents and prosecutors were working on criminal cases that officials considered potentially relevant to Russian election meddling.

As a result of events that followed the departure of the FBI director, I was concerned that the public would not have confidence in the investigation, and that the acting FBI director was not the right person to lead it. I decided that appointing a special counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and to promote public confidence in its conclusions.

As we now know, the eventual conclusions were that Russians committed crimes seeking to influence the election and Americans did not conspire with them. A special counsel appointment was consistent with Department of Justice precedent. Attorney General Bill Barr and Attorney General Janet Reno each, in the 1990s, had appointed special counsels in several cases when they concluded that a prosecutor with some degree of independence from the department could best resolve sensitive matters. More recently, Attorney General Barr has assigned US attorneys to take charge of significant investigations. But in May of 2017, there were only three confirmed United States attorneys remaining, all Obama administration appointees who had been ordered to resign and had been permitted to hold over for just a few months.

Some people confuse special counsels and independent counsels. Independent counsels are appointed by federal judges. The Department of Justice does not supervise them. They often expand their jurisdiction, and they usually investigate for many years. In contrast, Special Counsel Mueller was supervised by the department, with jurisdiction that was limited both in scope and in duration. I asked the special counsel to review each criminal allegation the FBI considered relevant to Russian election influence operations and recommend whether to close to the matter, to investigate because it might be relevant to Russian election meddling, or to refer the matter to another prosecutor.

I also established a supervisory chain of command within the department. Highly qualified department attorneys met regularly with the special counsel team to review recommendations about which matters to investigate and to approve significant steps in consultation with me. Whenever the special counsel proposed charges for which a United States attorney would need approval from the Department of Justice, from a headquarters division, those charges were reviewed, as usual, by the Tax Division, the National Security Division, or the Criminal Division.

I understand that today's hearing may focus on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. When I served as deputy attorney general, every FBI FISA application was written by agents and attorneys, reviewed by supervisors, sworn under oath by a federal agent, and certified by the FBI director. Before any application was submitted to the court, a senior department official, either the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, or the assistant attorney general for national security met with National Security Division supervisors to ensure that the application set forth a valid legal and factual basis. Ultimately, each application was submitted to a federal judge, who decided whether it set forth probable cause to justify the issuance of a warrant.

Every application that I approved appeared to be justified based on the facts it alleged, and the FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified. But investigative reviews published by the Inspector General in December 2019 and March of 2020, those investigative reviews revealed that the FBI was not following the protocols and that significant errors appeared in applications filed in connection with the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

The Inspector General concluded-- and I quote-- that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate hand-picked teams on one of the FBI most sensitive investigations that FBI officials expected would be subject to close scrutiny raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command's management and supervision of the FISA process.

Now, senators, whenever agents or prosecutors make serious mistakes or engage in misconduct, the Department of Justice needs to take remedial action. And if existing policies fall short, those policies need to be changed. Ensuring the integrity of governmental processes is essential to promoting public confidence in the rule of law. And while it is necessary to correct mistakes and to punish wrongdoers, it certainly should not go unsaid today that our law enforcement agencies are filled with men and women who act with integrity. As we watch them deal with extraordinarily difficult circumstances throughout the country this week, we should take this opportunity to let them know that they have our appreciation and our support.

In conclusion, I know that the members of this committee share a commitment to the principles of the Department of Justice. I look forward to addressing your questions. Thank you.

More From