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Sunday, March 12, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The confirmation hearings for Rod J. Rosenstein, nominated to be the deputy U.S. attorney general, have descended from the grand act of political theater promised by Sen. Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, to a clown show.

Mr. Rosenstein, if he becomes No. 2 to Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions (as he likely will), will be responsible for overseeing an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the November election, if there is such an investigation. Mr. Sessions, who would ordinarily supervise such investigations, has recused himself.


As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Mr. Rosenstein has not been privy to classified information about Russian meddling, if there was meddling, nor has he had intelligence briefings. Nevertheless, the Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee panel are demanding answers to unanswerable questions. “I’m going to ask that you [read classified Russian reports] before your nomination comes up, if it does come up on the floor [of the Senate],” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California told him. “Will you read those reports?” Sen. Feinstein surely knows that Mr. Rosenstein can’t do that without breaking the law. Or maybe she doesn’t, and plowed ahead in the Democratic offensive in ignorance if not innocence. Mr. Rosenstein has no security clearance to read classified information about anything.

“I think, Senator, if I were to become deputy attorney general, it would be essential for me to read those reports, probably the classified as well, if there is such a report,” Mr. Rosenstein replied. “I don’t think I’m authorized to do that [now] … I’m [U.S.] attorney for Maryland, and I have no role [in the investigation.]” (If there is one.)

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he would try to block Mr. Rosenstein’s confirmation unless he agrees to appoint a special prosecutor for the investigation, if there is one. This was a demand for an unusual double-hypothetical. “I will oppose your nomination if you are unwilling to commit to appoint a special prosecutor this issue of principle is so profoundly important and only you have the power to appoint a special prosecutor.” Mr. Blumenthal said the United States is at the edge of a “constitutional crisis.” (If there is one, he might have added.)

Mr. Rosenstein tried to explain things in language simple enough for a Democratic senator to understand. “You view it as an issue of principle that I need to commit to appoint a special counsel in a matter that I don’t even know if it’s being investigated,” Mr. Rosenstein told him. “I view it as an issue of principle that … I should not be promising to take action on a particular case.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told Mr. Rosenstein it was the committee’s role to impress on him the historic significance of allegations that a foreign entity attempted influence a U.S. election. She did not say where she got such an idea. Sen. Al Franken, the other Minnesota senator, repeated the lie, which he knows is a lie, that Mr. Sessions answered questions at his own confirmation hearings with a lie. He demanded that Mr. Rosenstein answer the question posed to Mr. Sessions about his role, if any, in colluding with the Russians during the presidential campaign last year. Mr. Franken, whose qualifications for the Senate were gained as a supporting comic actor on “Saturday Night Live,” knew that Mr. Rosenstein had no role in the Trump campaign and had never had an intelligence briefing. The clown show continues.


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