Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was scolded by a Republican committee chairman Wednesday as she grilled law enforcement and intelligence officials on the Russia probe.
The California Democrat sought assurances from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to fully and independently investigate possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
“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,” Harris said.
She asked Rosenstein whether he would issue a letter to Mueller assuring him of full independence, as James Comey had while serving as acting attorney general to the special counsel investigating the unmasking of a CIA agent.
“Senator, I’m very sensitive about time, and I would like to have a very lengthy conversation on this and explain this all to you,” Rosenstein said. “I tried to do that in the closed briefing.”
Harris asked if he could simply answer yes or no, and Rosenstein insisted there was no short answer for her question.
“Either you are willing to do that or not,” she said.
Then Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) broke in and asked the committee chairman to direct Harris to let Rosenstein speak.
Rosenstein staked his own reputation and Mueller’s reputation on the case, and Harris said she simply wanted his assurance in writing.
“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?” Harris said. “Yes or no, sir?”
Rosenstein said regulations gave Mueller full independence, and Harris again asked if he could give his assurance in writing, as his predecessors had — and the committee chairman interrupted her.
“Would the senator suspend?” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The chair is going to exercise its right to allow the witnesses to answer the question, and the committee is on notice to provide the witnesses the courtesy, which has not been extended all of the way across, the courtesy for questions to get answered.”
Harris pointed out that Rosenstein had joked about his ability to filibuster, and the deputy attorney general interjected to say he had not been joking.
Rosenstein then gave a lengthy answer, as Harris’s time for questions ran out, without offering explicit testimony that he would offer written assurance of Mueller’s independence.
“So is that a no?” Harris said, as the chairman called on the next senator for questioning.