Democratic senators pressed President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general Tuesday to support the naming of a special prosecutor to probe Russian interference in US politics.
Rod Rosenstein, who would decide the issue with the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his own Russian contacts, argued that the issue remained hypothetical for now.
But he said he was willing to name a special counsel to handle the politically hot case if merited.
Congressional committees are currently probing the Russia affair, and the appointment of a special independent prosecutor would mark a major escalation of the investigation.
Asked in a confirmation hearing if he was ready to name an independent investigator to examine contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials before and after the November 8 election, Rosenstein replied: “I am, when I determine it is appropriate based on policies and procedures of the Justice Department.”
Democrats at the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed the issue harder after Trump on Saturday accused his predecessor Barack Obama of ordering a wiretap on his Trump Tower in New York as part of the Russia probe.
Trump offered no proof to back up the allegation, but it added a new aspect to a widening controversy over how deeply has Moscow been able to press its interests in US politics.
“I believe we need an independent criminal investigation into Russian influence,” said Dianne Feinstein, the vice chair of the committee.
“As has been done in the past, a special prosecutor should lead this investigation. I believe it should be a respected prosecutor, someone free of any partisan or political background,” she said.
Sessions, who would normally be in charge of the decision, recused himself from any possible probe into Russia and the election after admitting he misled the Judiciary Committee on his own meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose presence looms large in the Russia affair.
US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Moscow interfered in the US election through hacking and information leaks designed to undermine Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.
US media have also reported, based on unnamed intelligence sources, that US justice and intelligence agencies have investigated contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials.
“We are in an extraordinary time careening toward a constitutional crisis,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“A special prosecutor is absolutely necessary.”
Rosenstein said any questions on having a special prosecutor, which would aim at keeping politics out of a probe, remain “hypothetical.”
“I will certainly support” any investigation, he told the panel.
© Agence France-Presse