WASHINGTON – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official with oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, said Wednesday that he saw no good cause to fire Mueller at this moment.
Rosenstein made the comment during the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Rosenstein made reference to DOJ regulations which limit when special counsels can be fired, as he was questioned about the scenario by ranking member Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
"If you were ordered today to fire Mr. Mueller, what would do?" Nadler asked.
"As I've explained previously, I would follow regulations. If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not," Rosenstein replied.
"And you see no good cause so far?" Nadler continued.
"Correct," Rosenstein said.
Anti-Trump Text Messages Made by FBI Agents
Republican representatives zeroed in on anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI agents who once worked on the Mueller team.
"This is unbelievable," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, voicing concern that the "public trust" in the probe is gone.
Just hours prior to Rosenstein's testimony, the Justice Department released hundreds of texts between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, who worked on Mueller's team and were romantically involved. Many of the texts were anti-Trump and pro-Clinton.
On March 4, the day after a Republican primary debate, Page wrote, "God, Trump is a loathsome human."
On the same day, Strzok texted, "Would he be a worse president than Senator Cruz?"
Page responded, "Trump? Yes, I think so."
Strzok replied, "I'm not sure," later adding "OMG, he's an idiot."
Page then wrote: "He's awful."
The messages were given to the House Judiciary Committee.
Republicans for weeks have raised concerns that some investigators may be biased, citing everything from their political donations to past work representing top Democratic figures and allied groups, including the Clinton Foundation.
"We are now beginning to understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mueller's team," Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in his opening statement on Wednesday.
-The "extreme bias" shown in the text messages between Strzok and Page
-Mueller investigator Andrew Weissmann's "awe" of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying President Trump
-Mueller investigator Jeannie Rhee's representation of the Clinton Foundation
Goodlatte also cited the case of another DOJ official demoted amid scrutiny of his contacts with the firm behind the anti-Trump dossier.
"Aren't DOJ attorneys advised to avoid even the 'appearance of impropriety'?" Goodlatte asked, calling the "potential bias" of certain career Justice Department officials and lawyers on Mueller's team "deeply troubling."
"DOJ investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices," he said.
Rosenstein told lawmakers that he has "discussed this with Robert Mueller."
"It's our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions," Rosenstein said. "I believe Director Mueller understands that and recognizes people have political views but that they don't let it affect their work."
"I know what he's doing," Rosenstein said of Mueller's investigative actions. "He consults with me about their investigation, within and without the scope."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has his staff reviewing the issue. But at this time, no one has alleged that the FBI officials have committed any crime.
Rosenstein Addresses Political Donations by FBI Agents
When asked about political donations that members of the Mueller team have given to Democrats in past elections, Rosenstein said Justice Department employees are allowed to have political opinions.
Still, he noted that he's talked with Mueller about ensuring those views do not affect investigators' work.
"We recognize we have employees with political opinions. It's our responsibility to make sure their opinions do not influence their actions," Rosenstein told lawmakers.
"I believe Director Mueller understands that and he is running the office appropriately – recognizing that people have political views, but ensuring that those views are not in any a factor in how they conduct themselves in office," he said.
Second Special Counsel?
"The country thinks we need a second special counsel," said Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. "Twenty members of this committee, the Judiciary Committee ... thinks we need a special counsel. All kinds of senators think we need a second special counsel."
"What fact pattern do you have to have – what kind of text messages did you have to see before you say, it's time for a second special counsel?" Jordan continued.
Rosenstein replied, "I can assure you, congressman, as I think the attorney general explained, we take very seriously the concerns of 20 members of this committee. And we have a responsibility to make an independent determination."