Russia is now a criminal matter, senators say after ‘sobering’ briefing

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are all clients of WilmerHale, the firm Mueller is leaving to assume the position of special prosecutor overseeing the high-profile Russian Federation election probe.

Still, less than an hour after the Rosenstein briefing had concluded Thursday, Trump again cited the deputy attorney general’s “very, very strong recommendation” as reasoning for Comey’s dismissal.

Democrats – and many Republicans – had been eager to hear from Comey after reports emerged this week that Trump may have urged the then-FBI director to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. But that changed on Wednesday evening when Rosenstein announced that he had appointed another former FBI director, Robert Mueller, to conduct an independent investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. Trump wrote on Thursday morning.

He did not offer any evidence of such acts in his reference to former Democratic President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar responded, “This is a truth hunt”.

“There needs to be a relationship with that investigation where they can say with confidence, ‘This really is a problem for us, ‘ or ‘Hey, we’d rather you didn’t do it, but it’s not a problem, ‘ ” Blunt said.

By Wednesday, leaders from the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees had sent requests to both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the White House for all records pertaining to Comey’s conversations with Trump.

The election interference aspect, which was first alleged in a report by the US intelligence community, appears to be an accepted fact, said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who has been in the center of some of the more explosive congressional revelations about the Russian Federation probe.

Rosenstein briefed US senators on Thursday, but made no public comments.

Senators said that Rosenstein steered clear of specifics while making clear that Mueller has wide latitude to pursue the investigation wherever it leads, potentially including criminal charges.

President Trump informed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of his plan to fire FBI Director James Comey before Rosenstein delivered a scathing assessment of the director’s performance that was used as justification for his firing, the deputy told senators in a briefing Thursday. He has already put a hold on Trump’s nomination of Sigal Mandelker to the position of under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence until Treasury hands over all documents related to financial dealings between Russia, Trump and Trump associates.

Durbin and other lawmakers said Rosenstein did not indicate who in the Trump administration told him to write the memo with the rationale for ousting Comey.

The appointment of Mueller as special counsel has drawn generally favorable comments from Democrats and from some Republicans as well.

His appointment raises the stakes dramatically on the long-simmering allegations that Russian Federation meddled in the 2016 election and had connections with members of the Trump campaign. Articles of impeachment levied against both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton included allegations of obstruction of justice for their efforts to hide other wrongdoing.

“If your implication is that the White House wants this, I think that’s wrong”, said Senate judiciary chair Chuck Grassley Wednesday night.

One difference, however: Special counsels get to choose whether they inform the Justice Department what they’re up to.