The Russia Connection

Highlights on the Russia Investigation from Today's Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing

By Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 10:38 PM

This morning’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was ostensibly on the topic of FISA Section 702, but given the witnesses before the Committee—Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe—the hearing featured a fair amount of questioning on the subject of the Russia investigation. A significant amount of the questioning focused on the Washington Post’s recent reporting regarding requests made by Trump to DNI Coats.  

Below is a preliminary transcript of some key sections from today’s testimony on L’Affaire Russe, compiled with the help of CSPAN.

WARNER: As I indicated, I've got some questions on another matter. Director Coats and Admiral Rodgers, they'll mostly be directed to you gentlemen, and thank you for your testimony this morning. We all know now in March then-Director Comey testified about the existence of an ongoing FBI investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And there are reports out in the press that the President separately appealed to you, Admiral Rogers and to you, Director Coats to downplay the Russian investigation. And now we've got additional reports, and we want to give you a chance to confirm or deny these, that the President separately addressed you, Director Coats, and asked you to in effect intervene with Director Comey again to downplay the FBI investigation. Admiral Rogers, you draw the short straw. I'll start with you. Before we get to the substance of whether this call or request was made, you've had a very distinguished career, close to 40 years. In your experience, would it be in any way typical for a President to ask questions or bring up an ongoing FBI investigation, particularly if that investigation concerns associates and individuals that might be associated with the president's campaign or his activities?

ROGERS: So today I am not going to talk about theoreticals. I'm not going to discuss the specific of any interaction or conversations that—if I could finish, sir, please, that I may or may not have had with the President of the United States but I will make the following comment. In the three-plus years that I have been the Director of the National Security agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not ever recall feeling pressured to do so.

WARNER: Prior to the incident that we'll discuss, was it in any regular course where a president would ask you to comment or intervene in any ongoing investigation? Not talking about this circumstance—

ROGERS: I’m not going to talk about theoreticals today.

WARNER: Let me ask you specifically. Did the President, in the reports that are out there, ask you any way, shape or form to back off or downplay the Russian investigation.

ROGERS: I'm not going to discuss the specifics of conversations with the President of the United States but I stand by the comment I just made to you.

WARNER: Do you feel that those conversations were classified? We know that there was an ongoing FBI investigation—

ROGERS: Yes, sir.

WARNER: And press reports—

ROGERS: Yes, sir.

WARNER: I understand your answer. I'm disappointed with that answer, but I may indicate, and I told you I was going to bring this up, there is—we have facts that there were other individuals that were aware of the call that was made to you, aware of the substance of that call and that there was a memo prepared because of concerns about that call. Will you comment at all—

ROGERS: I stand by the comments I have made to you today, sir.

WARNER: So you will not confirm or deny the existence of a memo.

ROGERS: I stand by the comments I have made to you today, sir.

WARNER: I think it will be essential, Mr. Chairman, that other individual who served our country as well with great distinction, whose no longer a member of the administration has the chance to relay his version of those facts. Again, I understand your position, but I hope you'll understand the enormous need for the american public to know. You've got the administration saying there's no there there, we have these reports and yet we can't get conversation.

Director Coats, when you appeared before SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee], you said, and I quote, if called before an investigative committee I will provide them with what I know and what I don't know. I have great respect for you. You served on this committee. I remember as well when we confirmed you and I was proud to support your confirmation. You said that you would cooperate with this committee in any aspects that we requested of the Russian investigation. We now have press reports, and you can lay them to rest if they're not true, but we have press reports of not once, but twice that the President of the United States asked you to either downplay the Russian investigation or to directly intervene with Director Comey. Can you set the record straight about what happened or didn't happen.

COATS: Senator, as I responded to a similar question during my confirmation in a second hearing before the committee, I do not feel it's appropriate for me to in a public session in which confidential conversations between the President and myself, I don't believe it's appropriate for me to address that in a public session.

WARNER: I thought you also said if brought before the investigative committee, you would quote, certainly provide them with what I know and what I don't know. We are before that investigative committee.

COATS: I stand by my previous statement that we are in a public session here and I do not feel that it's appropriate for me to address confidential information. Most of the information i've shared with the President obviously is directed toward intelligence matters during our Oval briefings every morning at the White House or most mornings when both the President and I are in town, but for intelligence-related matters or any other matters that have been discussed, it is my belief that it's inappropriate for me to share that with the public.

WARNER: Gentlemen, I respect all of your service and I understand and respect your commitment to the administration you're serving. We will have to bring forward that other individual about whether the existence of the memo that may document some of the facts that took place in the conversation between the President and Admiral Rodgers. I would only ask as we go forward, and this is my final comment, Mr. Chairman, that we also have to weigh in here the public's absolute need to know. They're wondering what's going on. They're wondering what type of activities. We see this pattern that—without confirmation or denial—it appears that the president, not once, not twice, but we will hear from Director Comey tomorrow, this pattern where the President seems to want to interfere or downplay or halt the ongoing investigation not only that the Justice Department's taking on but this committee's taking on. And I hope as we move forward on this you'll realize the importance that the American public deserves to get the answers to these questions.

COATS: Senator, I would like to respond to that if I could. First of all, I'm always—I told you and I committed to the committee that I would be available to testify before the committee. I don't think this is the appropriate venue to do this in, given that this is an open hearing and a lot of confidential information relative to intelligence or other matters. I just don't feel it's appropriate for me to do that in this situation. And then secondly, when I was asked yesterday to respond to a piece that I was told was going to be written and printed in The Washington Post this morning, my response to that was in my time of service, which is interacting with the President of the United States or anybody in his administration, I have never been pressured, I’ve never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship to an ongoing investigation.

WARNER: All I can say, Director Coats, there was a chance here to lay to rest some of these press reports. If the President is asking you to intervene or downplay—you may not have felt pressure, but if he's even asking, to me that is a very relevant piece of information and again, at least in terms of the conversation with Admiral Rogers, I think we will get at least some—another individual's version, but at some point these facts have to come out.

RUBIO: My questions are geared toward Director Coats and Admiral Rogers. You testified that you have never felt pressured by the President or by anyone to influence any ongoing investigation by the FBI. Are you prepared to say that you have never felt—never been asked by the President or the White House to influence an ongoing investigation?

COATS: Senator, I just hate to keep repeating this but I'm going to do it. I am willing to come before the committee and tell you what I know and what I don't know. What I'm not willing to do is to share what I think is confidential information that ought to be protected in an open hearing. And so I'm not prepared to answer your question today.

RUBIO: Director Coats, with the incredible respect I have for you, I am not asking for classified information. I am asking if you have ever been asked by anyone to influence an ongoing investigation.

COATS: I understand, but I'm not going to go down that road in a public forum. And I also was asked the question, if the special prosecutor called upon me to meet with him to ask his questions, I said I would be willing to do that.

ROGERS: I likewise stand by my previous comment.

RUBIO: In the interest of time, has anyone ever asked you now or in the past, this administration or any administration, to issue a statement that you knew to be false?

ROGERS: For me, I stand by my previous statement. I've never been directed to do anything in the course of my three-plus years as Director of the National Security Agency—

RUBIO: Not directed, asked.

ROGERS: —that I felt to be inappropriate, nor have I felt pressured to do so.

RUBIO: Have you ever been asked to say something that isn’t true?

ROGERS: I stand by my previous statement.

RUBIO: Director Coats.

COATS: I do likewise.

RUBIO: Let me ask this of everyone on this panel. Is any one aware of any effort by anyone in the White House, or elsewhere, to seek advice on how to influence any investigation?

ROSENSTEIN: My answer is absolutely no, Senator.

RUBIO: No one has anything to add to that?

ROGERS: I don’t understand the question.

RUBIO: The question is, are you aware of any efforts by anyone in the White House or the executive branch looking for advice from other members of the intelligence community about how to potentially influence an investigation?.

ROGERS: Are you talking about me? No.

COATS: No.

McCABE: I'm not sure I understand the question, but if you're asking whether we—I’m aware of requests to other people in the intelligence community, I am not.

RUBIO: Seeking advice on how it could potentially influence someone, you're not aware of anyone ever saying or reporting that to you?

McCABE: No, sir.

RUBIO: Has anyone ever come forward and said, I just got a call from someone at the white House asking me what is the best way to influence someone on an investigation.

COATS: I’ve never received anything.

ROGERS: I have no direct knowledge.

RUBIO: There was an allegation made in one of the press reports and that's why I ask.

[Crosstalk]

ROSENSTEIN: The answer is no, as I understand it, but I'm not sure I'm familiar with the particular media report that you're referring to.

WYDEN: I've noted the conversations that you've had with my colleagues with respect to the content of conversations that you may have had with the president. My questions are a little different. Did any of you four write memos, take notes or otherwise record yours or anyone else's interactions with the President related to the Russia investigation?

COATS: I don’t take any notes.

WYDEN: Let’s just get all four of you on the record.

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I rarely take notes. I'm actually taking a few today. But I'm not going to answer questions concerning the Russian investigation. I think it's important for you to understand—

WYDEN: Not on whether you wrote a memo.

ROSENSTEIN: I’m not going to answer any questions about the—

WYDEN: My time’s going to be short. Whether you wrote a memo, notes, anything.

McCABE: I also am not going to comment on any conversations I may have had or notes taken or not taken relative to the Russian investigation.

ROGERS: And the likewise. I take the same position.

WYDEN: Director Coats, on March 23 you testified to the Armed Services Committee that you were not aware of the President or White House personnel contacting anyone in the intelligence community with a request to drop the investigation into General Flynn. Yesterday The Washington Post reported that you had been asked by the President to intervene with Director Comey to back off of the FBI's focus on General Flynn. Which one of those is accurate?

COATS: Senator, I will say once again, I'm not going to get into any discussion on that in an open hearing.

WYDEN: Both of them can’t be accurate, Mr. Director.

COLLINS: I have a question for each of you that I would like to ask and I want to start with Admiral Rogers. Admiral Rogers, did anyone at the White House direct you on how to responded today or to—were there discussions of executive privilege?

ROGERS: Have I asked the White House, is it their intent to invoke executive privilege? Yes. The answer I gave you to today reflects my answer. No one else’s.

COLLINS: Director Coats?

COATS: My answer is exactly the same.

COLLINS: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein?

ROSENSTEIN: I have not had any conversations with the White House about invoking executive privilege today.

COLLINS: Director McCabe?

McCABE: I have not had any conversations with the White House about executive privilege today either.

HEINRICH: Director McCabe, did Director Comey ever share details of his conversations with the President with you in particular did Director Comey say that the President had asked for his loyalty?.

McCABE: Sir, I'm not going to comment on conversations the Director may have had with the President. I know he's here to testify in front of you tomorrow. You'll have an opportunity to ask him those questions—

HEINRICH: I'm asking you. Did you have that conversation with Director Comey?

McCABE: And I responded I’m not going to comment on those conversations.

HEINRICH: Why not?

McCABE: For two reasons. First, as I mentioned, I'm not in a position to talk about conversations that Director Comey may or may not have had—

HEINRICH: I’m not asking you that. I’m asking about conversations you had with Director Comey.

McCABE: I think that those matters also begin to fall within the scope of issues being investigated by the special counsel and wouldn't be appropriate....

HEINRICH: So you're not invoking executive privilege and obviously it's not classified. This is the oversight committee. Why would it not be appropriate for you to share that conversation with us?

McCABE: I think I'll let Director Comey speak for himself tomorrow in front of this committee..

HEINRICH: We certainly look forward to that but I think you're unwillingness to share that conversation is an issue. Director Coats, you've said as well that it would be inappropriate to answer a simple question about whether the President asked for your assistance in blunting the russian investigation. I don't care how you felt, I'm not asking whether you felt pressured. I'm simply asking did that conversation occur.

McCABE: And once again, Senator, I will say that I do believe it's inappropriate for me to discuss that in an open session.

HEINRICH: You realize, and obviously this is not releasing any classified information, you realize how simple it would be to simply be to say no, that never happened? Why is it inappropriate, Director Coats?

COATS: I think conversations between the President and myself are for the most part—

HEINRICH: You seem to apply that standard selectively.

COATS: No, I’m not applying it selectively. I’m just saying I don’t think it’s appropriate—

HEINRICH: You can clear an awful lot up—

COATS: I don't share with the general public conversations that I have with the president or many of my colleagues within the administration that I believe are—should not be shared.

HEINRICH: I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question speaks volumes.

COATS: It's not a matter of unwillingness, Senator, it's a matter of how I share and with whom I share it to. And when there are ongoing investigations, I think it's inappropriate to be involved—

HEINRICH: You don't think the American people deserve to know the answer to that question.

COATS: I think the investigations will determine that and if you're part of the investigation—

HEINRICH: Mr. Rosenstein, did you know when you wrote the memo that was used as the primary justification for firing Director Comey that the administration would be using it as the primary justification?

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I know you're aware, there are a number of documents associated with me that are in the public record. The memorandum I wrote concerning Director Comey is in the public record. The order appointing the special counsel is in the public record. The press release I issued accompanying that order is in the public record and a written version of the statement that I delivered to—

HEINRICH: Were you aware that it would be the primary justification for his firing?

ROSENSTEIN: Pardon me, 100 United States Senators and 535 Congressman is in the public record. I answered many—

HEINRICH: But you’re not answering the question.

ROSENSTEIN: As I explained in those briefings, Senator, I support Mr. McCabe on this. We have a special counsel who is investigating now responsible for the—

HEINRICH: At this point you filibuster better than most of my colleagues, so I'll move on to another question and say that given that the President stated that the FBI Director that his firing was in response to investigations into Russia, which he made very clear in Lester Holt's interview, you've talked with both the President and the Attorney General about this firing. In light of Mr. Sessions recusal, what role did the Attorney General play in that firing and was it appropriate for him to write the letter that he wrote in this case?

ROSENSTEIN: I'm not trying to filibuster, Senator. I think I only took about 30 seconds, but I am not going to comment on that matter. I'll leave it to Special Counsel Mueller to determine if that's within the scope of his investigation and I believe that's appropriate for Mr. McCabe and me to do that—

HEINRICH: You can't comment on recusal and what's inside and outside the scope of that recusal—

ROSENSTEIN: I'm sorry, your specific question is what's in the recusal, and my understanding is the recusal you're referring to is also in the public record and I believe it speaks for itself.

BLUNT: Director McCabe, on May the 11th when you were before this committee, you said that there has been no effort to impede the Russian investigation. Is that still your position?

McCABE: It is, but let me clarify, Senator. I think you're referring to the exchange that I had with Senator Rubio and my understanding, at least my intention in providing that answer, was whether or not the firing of Director Comey had had a negative impact on our investigation. And my response was then and is now that the FBI investigated and continues to investigate, and now of course under the rubric of the special counsel, the Russian investigation in an appropriate and unimpeded way. Before Director Comey was fired and since he's been gone.

BLUNT: I think I recall that conversation. it was a discussion about whether there were plenty of resources, wlg the funding was adequate and what you were reported to have said. I haven't looked at the exact transcript. Was that you were aware of no effort to impede the Russian investigation?

McCABE: We did talk about resource issues and whether or not we had asked for additional resources to pursue the investigation. I believe my response at the time was we had not asked for additional resources and that we had adequate resources to pursue the investigation. That was true then. It's still true today.

BLUNT: And you would characterize your quote as no effort to impede the Russian investigation as still accurate?

McCABE: That’s correct.

KING: Mr. McCabe, I'm puzzled by your refusal to answer a question about Director Comey. What's your basis to refuse to answer that question?

McCABE: I can't sit here and tell you whether or not those conversations that you're referring to—

KING: Why not? Do you not remember them?

McCABE: I don't know whether a conversations along the lines that you've described fall within the purview of what the special counsel is now investigating.

KING: Is there some prohibition in the law that i'm not familiar with that you can't discuss an item that you've been asked directly a question?

McCABE: It would not be appropriate for me to discuss issues that are potentially within the purview of the special counsel's investigation.

KING: And that's the basis of your refusal to answer this question.

McCABE: Yes, sir and that and knowing of course that Director Comey will be sitting—

KING: Is your position that the special counsel's entitled to ask you question about this but not an oversight committee of the United States Congress?

McCABE: It is my position that I have to be particularly careful about not stepping into the special counsel's lane as they have now been authorized.

KING: I don't understand why the special counsel's lane takes precedence over the lane of the Congress? Can you explain that distinction? Why does special—

McCABE: I would be happy to take that matter back to discuss it more fully with my general counsel and the Department.

KING: On the record I would like a legal justification for your refusal to answer today because I think it's a straightforward question. It's not involving discussions with the President, it's involving discussions with Mr. Comey. Director Coats and Admiral Rogers, I think you testified that you did discuss today's testimony with someone in the White House?

ROGERS: I said I asked, did the White House intend to invoke executive privileges associated with any interactions between myself and the President.

KING: And what was the answer to that question?

ROGERS: To be honest I didn't get a definitive answer, and both myself and the DNI are still talking to the White House.

KING: Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation of executive privilege?

ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of—because I feel it's inappropriate.

KING: What is it you feel isn't relevant, admiral? What you feel isn't the answer? The question is why are you not answering the question, is an invocation of executive privilege? If there is, let's know about it. If there isn't let's answer the question.

ROGERS: I've stand by the comments i've made. I'm not interested in repeating myself, sir. And I don't mean that in a contentious way.

KING: Well, I do mean it in a contentious way. When you were confirmed before the armed services committee you took an oath: Do you solemnly swear to give the committee the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? You answered yes to that.

ROGERS: It's not appropriate in an open forum to discuss those classified conversations.

KING: What is classified about whether or not you should intervene in the FBI investigation?

ROGERS:  I stand by my previous comments.

KING: Mr. Coats, same series of questions. What's the basis for your refusal to answer these questions today?

COATS: The basis is what I previously explained. I do not believe it is appropriate for me to—

KING: What's the basis? I'm not satisfied with I do not believe it's appropriate or I do not feel I should answer. You swore that oath to tell us the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth and today you are refusing to do so. What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?

COATS: I'm not sure I have a legal basis, but I'm more than willing to sit before this committee during its investigative process in a closed session and answer your question.

KING: We'll be having a closed session in a few hours. Do you commit to me that you'll answer these questions in a direct and incumbent way?

COATS: That closed session you'll have in a few hours goes over the technicalities and doesn't involve us.

KING: When you are before this committee in a closed session, you will answer these questions directly and without hesitation?

COATS: I plan to do that, but I do have—I do have to work through the legal counsel at the White House relative to whether or not they'll exercise executive privilege.

KING: Admiral Rogers, will you answer these questions?

ROGERS: I’ll likewise respond as the DNI has. I do have to acknowledge because of the sensitive nature and the executive privilege aspects of this, I need to be talking to the general counsel in the White House. I hope we come to a position where we can have this dialogue.

KING: Both of you testified you had never been pressured under three years. I would argue that you have waived executive privilege by in effect testifying as to something that didn't happen and I believe you opened the door to these questions and it is my belief that you are inappropriately refusing to answer these questions today.

BURR: Let me say that the Vice Chairman and I have had conversations with Acting Attorney General Rosenstein when special counsel was named and, as I had shared with the members of this committee prior to that, that as we carried out an investigation, there would come a point in time either with the investigation that was currently ongoing at the FBI or if there was a special counsel with the special counsel, where there would be avenues that this committee could not explore. And it was my hope that already the Vice Chair and I would've had that conversation with the special counsel. We have not. We've made the request. We intend to have it and I think that both of us anticipated that we would reach this point at some point in the investigation. We are there where there are some things that will fall into the special counsel and/or an active investigation.

WARNER: Let me just say, at this point, we've not had that conversation with Mr. Mueller. We've not been waved off on any subject and the way I'm hearing all of you gentlemen is that Mr. Mueller has not waved you off from answering any of these questions. Is that correct?

COATS: I've had no conversations with Mr. Mueller. I've been out of the country for the last nine days.

WARNER: Have any of you had—because if you've not had questions waved off with Mr. Mueller, I think frankly, and I understand your commitment to the administration, but Senator King, Senator Heinrich and my questions deserve answers, and at some point the American public deserves full answers.

BURR: I’m going to ask Mr. Rosenstein to address that.

ROSENSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm sensitive to your desire to keep our answers brief and my full answer would actually very lengthy. But my brief answer from my perspective with the Department of Justice, and Mr. McCabe also, our default position is when there's a Justice Department investigation, we do not discuss it publicly. That's our default rule.

WARNER: Is that the rule for the President of the United States as well? Because that is what the questions are being asked about, reports that nobody has laid to rest here that the President of the United States has intervened directly in an ongoing FBI investigation and we've gotten no answer from any of you. And, frankly, we've at least heard from Director Coats and Admiral Rogers they've not been asked to recuse an answer because of Director Mueller, and I don't understand why we can't get that answer.

ROSENSTEIN: I'm not answering for Director Rogers or Director Coats, I'm answering for myself with the Department of Justice.

MANCHIN: If the Intelligence Committee Senate cannot get answers we know in an open setting like this, are these answers that we're asking the questions, will they be given into a classified intel setting that we would have? Could you answer affirmatively than what you've given us an open session? I think, Director Coats, you said you would be able to answer differently?

COATS: I think I’ve made that very clear.

MANCHIN: Admiral Rogers?

ROGERS: Likewise, I certainly hope so.

MANCHIN: Mr. Rosenstein, would you?

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, speaking for Mr. McCabe and myself, we have been involved in managing the criminal investigation, and so I would ask that as Chairman Burr suggested, it's appropriate for Director Mueller, since we turned over control of the investigation, for him to make the determination about what we can and can't speak about, so I would encourage you to use Mr. Mueller as your point person as to whether or not it’s appropriate to reveal that information.

MANCHIN: Let’s just say about the questions that were asked to Mr. McCabe. I think they weren’t anything on the investigation side. He was asked pretty personal, directly. Could you answer differently in a classified session?

McCABE: I would reiterate the DAG’s comments. At this point with the Special Counsel involved, it would be appropriate for the committee to have an understanding with the special counsel's office as to where those questions would go, but I would also point out that as we have historically when we are investigating sensitive matters in which operational security is of utmost importance, members of the intelligence community typically come and brief the leadership, congressional leadership, on sensitive investigative matters. We have done so, I have done so, Director Comey has done so prior to the appointment of the special counsel, and some of the questions that you have asked this morning were addressed in those closed, very restricted, very small settings.

HARRIS: In response to the question from Senator Manchin, you appear felt free to discuss what you talked to the President about in January about Russian active measures. Can you share with this committee how you're determining which conversations you can share and which you don't feel free to share?

ROGERS: Ma'am, the fact that we briefed the president previously, both went up to new york and previously as a matter of public record.

HARRIS: So it's it a matter of public record, you feel free to discuss those conversations?

ROGERS: It's not classified. You can keep trying to trip me up—Senator, can I get to respond, ma'am?

HARRIS: No, sir, no. Are you saying that if it is classified you will not discuss it, and then my follow-up question obviously would be, do you believe that discussion of Russian active measures is not the subject of classified information?

ROGERS: I stand by my previous comments.

HARRIS: Thank you. Mr. Rosenstein, when you appointed a special counsel on May 17th, you stated, "Based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command." The order you issued, along with that statement, provides that 28 CFR 600.1-10 are applicable, otherwise known as the Special Counsel Regulations. Is that correct?

ROSENSTEIN: Yes, Senator.

HARRIS: And it states that the special counsel should not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the Department. However, the regulations permit you as Acting Attorney General for this matter to override Director Mueller’s investigative and prosecutorial decisions under specified circumstances. Is that correct?

ROSENSTEIN: Yes, Senator.

HARRIS: It also provides you may fire or remove Director Mueller under specified circumstances, is that correct?

ROSENSTEIN: Yes.

HARRIS: You indicated in your statement that you chose a person who exercises a degree of independence, not full independence from the normal chain of command. So my question is this. In December of 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself. The Acting Attorney General at the time was Jim Comey. He appointed a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, to take over the matter. In a letter dated December 30th of 2003 Mr. Comey wrote the following to Mr. Fitzgerald, "I direct you to exercise your authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department." In a subsequent letter dated February 6th, 2004, Mr. Comey wrote to clarify the earlier letter stating that his delegation of authority to Mr. Fitzgerald was “plenary.” Moreover, it said that, “My conferral on you should not be misunderstood to suggest your position and authorities are defined or limited by 28 CFR Part 600.” Those are the special counsel regulations we discussed. So, would you agree, Mr. Rosenstein, to provide a letter to Director Mueller similarly, providing that Director Mueller has the authority as special counsel “independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the Department” and ensure that Director Mueller has the authority that's not defined or limited by the special counsel regulations?

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I'm very sensitive about time, and I'd like to have a very lengthy conversation and explain that to you. I’ll try to do that in the closed briefing.

HARRIS: Can you give me a yes or no answer?

ROSENSTEIN: It's not a short answer.

HARRIS: It is. Either you are willing to do that or not, as we have precedent in that regard.

...

ROSENSTEIN: It's a long question you pose, Senator, and I fully appreciate the import of your question, and I'll get to the answer. My quibble with you is, Pat Fitzgerald is a very principled, very independent person. I have a lot of respect for him. Pat Fitzgerald could have been fired by the President because he was the United States Attorney. Robert Mueller cannot, because he's protected by those special counsel regulations, so although it's theoretically true there are circumstances where he could be removed by the Acting Attorney General, which for this case at this time is me, your assurance of his independence is Robert Mueller's integrity and Andy McCabe's integrity and my integrity, and those regulations—

HARRIS: Sir, if I may, the greater assurance is not that you and I believe in Director Mueller's integrity, which I have no question about Mr. Mueller’s integrity. It is that you would put in writing an indication based on your authority as the Acting Attorney General that he has full independence in regards to the investigations that are before him. Are you willing or are you not willing to give him the authority to be fully independent of your ability statutorily and legally to fire him? Yes or no, sir.

ROSENSTEIN: He has the full independence as authorized by those regulations… The truth is, I have a lot of experience with these issues, and I could speak to you for a very long time about it, and I’m sympathetic, I appreciate the five-minute limit. That's not my limit, but the answer is, this originated as you may know with the independent counsel statute and I worked in the department during the independent counsel era when independent counsel were appointed by authorization of the Senate, they were appointed by federal judges, and they had essentially the authority equivalent to the Attorney General. That statute sunsetted and the majority of members of this body concluded that was appropriate because they did not want independent counsels who were 100 percent independent of the Department of Justice. That was a determination made by the legislature. Now, I know the folks at the Department who drafted this regulation and drafted it to deal with this type of circumstance and the idea was there would be some circumstances where, because of unusual events, it was appropriate to appoint somebody outside the Department, not somebody like Pat Fitzgerald, who is a U.S. Attorney that could be fired, but somebody from outside the Department who could be trusted to conduct this investigation independently and given an appropriate degree of independence. So now, under the regulation he has, I believe, adequate authority to conduct this investigation and your ultimate check, senator, number one, the integrity of the people involved in the investigation, but number two, the fact if he were overruled or fired, we would be required under the regulation to report to the Congress and so I believe that's an appropriate check. And so I realize that theoretically anybody could be fired, and so there's a potential for undermining the investigation. I am confident, Senator, that Director Mueller, Mr. McCabe and I and anybody else who may fill those positions in the future will protect the integrity of that investigation. That's my commitment to you and that's the guarantee that you and the American people have.

HARRIS: So is that a no?

REED: Director McCabe, I'm trying to understand the rationale for your unwillingness to comment upon your conversations with Director Comey. First, you have had, I would presume, correct me if i'm wrong, conversations with Mr. Mueller. You've had those conversations.

McCABE: Yes, sir.

REED: You're fully familiar with the scope of the investigation. Since you've dealt with not only Mr. Mueller, but also—

McCABE: I am, sir, but I think it's important to note that mr. Mueller and his team are currently in the process of determining what that scope is.

REED: But getting back to your rationale for not commenting on the investigation between you and Mr. Comey, there's—it seems to me that what you say is either that is part of a criminal investigation or likely to become part of a criminal investigation, the conversation between the President of the United States and Mr. Comey, and, therefore, you cannot properly comment on that. Is that accurate?

McCABE: That's accurate, sir.

REED: What about the conversations between Director Coats and Admiral Rogers with the President of the United States? Is that likely to become or is part of an ongoing criminal investigation?

McCABE: I couldn't comment on that, sir. I'm not—I'm not familiar with that, and it wouldn't be—for the same reasons it's not appropriate for me to comment on Director Comey's conversations, I certainly wouldn't comment on those that I'm further away from.

REED: Mr. Rosenstein, are you aware of the possibility of an investigation into conversations that Director Coats and Admiral Rogers have had with the President?

ROSENSTEIN: My familiarity is what I read in the newspaper this morning and what we heard here today.

REED: Director Coats, have you had any contact with special prosecutor or any—

COATS: I have not.

REED: Have you been advised by any of your counsels, private or public, that at least this conversation that you have with the president could be subject to a criminal investigation?

COATS: I have not.

REED: Admiral Rogers? Same question.

ROGERS: To the last question, no, I have not.

REED: Let me just return again to the points that, I think, Senator King made very well, which is this unwillingness to comment on the conversation with the President but to characterize it in a way that you didn't feel pressured, yet refusing to answer very specific and non-intelligence-related issue, I don't see how it wouldn't pack on the classification and our status, whether or not you specifically asked by the President to do anything. Do you still maintain that you can't comment whether you're asked or not?

COATS: Nothing has changed since my initial response.

ROGERS: I stand by my previous answer.