WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified Tuesday that he would fire the special counsel in the Russia investigation only if he had “good cause” to do so — even if that meant ignoring a direct order from President Trump.
Rosenstein, testifying about the Justice Department budget in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was asked by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, what he would do if Trump ordered him to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Senator, I’m not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders,” Rosenstein said. “Under the regulation, special counsel Mueller can only be fired for good cause, so that’s what I would do. If there were good cause I would consider it; if there were not good cause it wouldn’t matter to me what anyone said.” He later said he did not believe there was “good cause” to fire Mueller at this point.
A close friend of Trump’s, Chris Ruddy, told PBS’ “NewsHour” on Monday that he thought it was “pretty clear” Trump was weighing the option of firing Mueller. Former House Speaker and Trump friend Newt Gingrich also took aim at Mueller, saying that those working on the probe are “bad people.”
The comments sparked a round of speculation about whether the president would dismiss former FBI Director Mueller, who is probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any potential ties between Russian officials and Trump campaign staffers. Trump already fired former FBI Director James Comey, who said in bombshell testimony last week that he believed his dismissal was related to the Russia probe.
Rosenstein testified Tuesday that he is the only person who can fire Mueller, given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigations dealing with the Trump campaign. (“As long as I’m in this position, it would be my responsibility to make that decision,” he said.) He assured senators that Mueller would have “sufficient independence” in his investigation and that he would “defend the integrity” of the probe. Rosenstein added he had not spoken to the president about the special counsel.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., asked if there was a “secret plan” to fire the special counsel.
“There’s no secret plan that involves me, no, senator,” Rosenstein said.
Sessions is testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday afternoon, where he’s expected to be grilled about a reported — and unsubstantiated — secret meeting with the Russian ambassador last year that did not come up during his confirmation process. He also will be asked about the scope of his recusal in the Russia investigation.
Rosenstein was also questioned about whether he believed it was appropriate for Sessions to recommend Comey’s firing last month, even though Comey at the time was leading the Russia investigation Sessions was recused from. Rosenstein said he had an opinion on that question. but that it was inappropriate to share it. He also testified he and Sessions had had no substantive discussions about the Russia investigation since his recusal.