WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Republican allies of President Donald Trump shouted and attacked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, alleging he was improperly withholding documents related to the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The tense congressional hearing came as Republicans brought to the House floor a non-binding resolution that scolded the Justice Department for not turning over more records, a move that is widely seen as a possible precursor to holding Rosenstein in contempt of Congress. The resolution passed along party lines, 226-183.
Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, has become a frequent punching bag for Trump supporters for appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in his campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, who were both appointed by Trump, insisted they are working to comply with congressional Republicans’ demands for documents related to the investigation but Republicans did not appear convinced.
During a hostile exchange with Representative Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s major backers, Rosenstein accused him of a personal attack.
“I am the deputy attorney general of the United States,” he said. “... I’m responsible for responding to your concerns as I have. I have a team with me, sir. It’s just a fraction of the team doing this work.
“So your statement that I’m personally keeping information from you, trying to conceal information ...”
“You’re the boss, Mr. Rosenstein,” Jordan interrupted.
“That’s correct,” Rosenstein snapped back. “And my job is to make sure that we respond to your concerns. We have, sir.”
Jordan later tried to assure the deputy attorney general his criticism wasn’t personal, to which Rosenstein responded, “Sometimes it feels that way.”
Republican Trey Gowdy angrily demanded Rosenstein wrap up the investigation.
“If you have evidence of any wrongdoing by any member of the Trump campaign, present it to the damn grand jury,” he said. “If you have evidence that this president acted inappropriately, present it to the American people ... Whatever you got, finish it the hell up.”
The Mueller investigation already has led to charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, his former national security adviser and several other people.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and repeatedly called the investigation a witch hunt.
For months now, Republicans have issued subpoenas and sought documents in connection with the FBI’s collusion investigation, as well as other records related to the probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Critics say the Republicans are trying to discredit investigations of the Trump campaign, and Democrats expressed exasperation Thursday.
“Stand your ground,” Democratic Representative Ted Lieu told Rosenstein. Lieu called the hearing “ridiculous and stupid.”
Republicans have alleged the FBI made missteps when it applied to a special court for a warrant to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and questioned the FBI’s use of a confidential informant who reached out to several Trump campaign officials.
The Justice Department already has turned over hundreds of thousands of pages and held several briefings with members of Congress about the investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the department’s inspector general to investigate if errors were made when the FBI applied for the surveillance warrant to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
But Republicans have complained about redactions on certain records and also claim other records pertaining to the investigation into Trump’s campaign have not been turned over.
Representative Matt Gaetz, another Trump ally, had a tense exchange with Rosenstein, alleging Rosenstein had signed a document to authorize “spying” on the Trump campaign.
“I dispute your characterization about what that (surveillance warrant application) is about, sir,” Rosenstein said. “If the inspector general finds that I did something wrong, then I will respect that judgment but I think it’s highly, highly unlikely, sir.”
Thursday’s hearing was the first time Rosenstein has testified before Congress since the Justice Department’s inspector general report that described missteps by the FBI in its handling of the investigation of Clinton’s private email server use while she was secretary of state.
In his testimony he said he was upset by the problems uncovered in the report, including texts that several FBI employees sent disparaging Trump.
“We need to correct errors, hold wrongdoers accountable and deter future violations,” Rosenstein said.
(This version of the story corrects paragraph 17 to say the hearing was called “ridiculous and stupid” by Lieu, not Rosenstein)
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bill Trott