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Russia Probes Top Agenda At Hearing For Justice Department Nominee

  • RFE/RL

Rod Rosenstein testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 7.

Rod Rosenstein testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 7.

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. federal prosecutor who is poised to oversee Justice Department investigations into alleged connections between Russian officials and White House aides during the 2016 presidential election campaign has said he isn't aware of any reason for him to recuse himself from those probes.

Rod Rosenstein made the statement on March 7 during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rosenstein's nomination to be the No. 2 Justice Department official has been caught up in the swirl of allegations about meetings between President Donald Trump's aides and Russian officials during 2016.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who heads the Justice Department, recused himself last week from overseeing all investigations about the election campaign after he appeared to have misled senators during his own confirmation hearing by saying that he never met with any Russian government officials during the campaign.

Later, however, after media reports on the issue, Sessions admitted meeting with Russia's ambassador to the United States at least twice during the election campaign.

Republican and Democratic senators are at odds over whether a special independent prosecutor should be appointed to look into Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. election campaign.

The FBI is reportedly conducting its own probes on the subject, as are four different Senate committees.

During Rosenstein's March 7 confirmation hearing, he was repeatedly asked -- mainly by Democratic senators -- about how he would handle the oversight of investigations into the election campaign and whether he would consider calling for a special prosecutor.

Rosenstein said he was not familiar with the facts of any investigation and was unaware of any requirement that he abandon oversight. But he said he would recuse himself if it was necessary.

One Democrat on the committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, has specifically demanded that Rosenstein step aside from overseeing any investigations related to Russia's alleged efforts to interfere in the election campaign.

"I will use every possible tool to block the nomination of Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general unless he commits to appoint independent special prosecutor," Blumenthal said in a statement released ahead of the hearing.

Sessions, meanwhile, submitted revised written testimony to the Judiciary Committee on March 6, acknowledging that he had spoken twice during 2016 with Russia's ambassador to the United States.

Sessions also insisted that his original testimony was correct.

"I did not mention communications I had had with the Russian ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them," Sessions wrote. "My answer was correct."

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