WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general defended his qualifications for the post at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, as lawmakers raised questions about his lack of criminal law experience.
But the tensest moments of Jeffrey Rosen’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee came when he refused to firmly commit to making special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia probe public.
The most heated exchange came during questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who asked for Rosen’s commitment to support the disclosure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to Congress without any redactions. Rosen repeatedly said he was not involved in the special counsel’s investigation and did not directly answer the question.
“I will vote against you if you fail to commit that you will respect the institutional authority and obligation of the United States Congress to review that report,” Blumenthal shot back.
Mueller submitted a nearly 400-page confidential report to Attorney General William Barr last month and Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress of Mueller’s “principal conclusions” two days later. Barr’s letter said that Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump associates around the time of the 2016 election and that Barr did not believe the evidence in the report was sufficient to prove the president had obstructed justice.
Rosen would succeed the current deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and oversaw his work. If confirmed, Rosen would almost certainly be directly involved in the Justice Department’s response to inquiries from Congress about the Mueller investigation and cases that were spun off to federal prosecutors.
Rosen suggested that he was willing to rebuff political pressure from the White House, if necessary. He told the legislators that he would expect that all criminal investigations “proceed on the facts and the law” and that he believes prosecutions should be “free of improper political influences.”
“If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody, then I will say no,” he said.
Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on Rosen’s experience and whether he would be in a position to handle the Justice Department’s day-to-day operations without any criminal law experience. The deputy attorney general oversees major prosecutions, the department’s criminal and national security divisions, and U.S. attorney’s offices across the nation.
The longtime litigator currently serves as the deputy transportation secretary in the Trump administration and had also worked in private practice and as general counsel in the Office of Management and Budget.
The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, cautioned Rosen that a deputy attorney general must be able to “withstand pressure,” which she said is even more important “in light of President Trump’s repeated calls to investigate his political rivals, including Hillary Clinton.”
Trump has decried special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which officially concluded last month, as a “witch hunt.” He has also said the Justice Department should be investigating Democrats, including Clinton, and chants of “lock her up” have become a rallying cry at Trump’s campaign events.
During his opening remarks, Rosen pointed to his management experience at the Transportation Department, where he said he acts as the chief operating officer of the agency that has a budget exceeding $80 billion and more than 55,000 employees. He also highlighted his legal experience and told the lawmakers he has argued cases in federal and state courts across the nation. Rosen spent nearly 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the same law firm as Barr, in a variety of management roles, including the co-head of the firm’s Washington office.
Rosen said that if he were confirmed, he would not “be the first person” to become deputy attorney general without having experience in the Justice Department and would surround himself with veteran prosecutors. He also said he has had “many, many dealings” with the Justice Department and its component agencies.