Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended his decision to appoint a special counsel to scrutinize ties between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia during an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. He told senators he thought it was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately and ensure public confidence in its conclusions, the Associated Press reports. The hearing was the first in a series of oversight sessions that coincide with accelerated election-year efforts to review the FBI’s Russia investigation. Republican allies of the president have taken fresh aim at that investigation and at the law enforcement and intelligence officials who conducted it. They point to newly declassified information to allege that Trump and his associates were unfairly pursued. The hearing called by Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a GOP effort to refocus public attention on the Russia investigation at a time when Trump is facing public scrutiny over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and unrest set off by the death of George Floyd.
Though Rosenstein was a Trump appointee, he has often been regarded with suspicion by many supporters of the president, and Trump himself, for his role in the Russia investigation. Rosenstein’s fate was in limbo in September 2018 after it was revealed that he had floated the idea of wearing a wire inside the White House to record conversations with Trump. In his opening statement Wednesday, Rosenstein said that “as a result of events that followed the departure of the FBI director [James Comey], I was concerned that the public would not have confidence in the investigation and that the acting FBI director was not the right person to lead it.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report last year detailed significant contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign but did not allege a criminal conspiracy to sway the election.