Deputy AG defends integrity of Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on probes into possible contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russia (all times local):

11:35 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he will “defend the integrity” of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. elections.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Rosenstein that she believes it would be “catastrophic” if special counsel Robert Mueller were fired on the orders of President Donald Trump. She said such a move would “destroy any shred of trust in the president’s judgment that remains over here.”

Rosenstein said he appointed the special counsel, he thinks it was the right thing to do and “I am going to defend the integrity of that investigation.”

Feinstein also asked if Rosenstein had an estimate for how long the investigation will take.

“I regret that I do not,” Rosenstein said.

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11:35 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says that a history of political giving is not a disqualifier for those who work for the Department of Justice’s special counsel investigating Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Under questioning from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rosenstein said that having given political donations is not a disqualifier. Graham also asked him if it would be a disqualifier to have worked for Hillary Clinton, who ran against President Donald Trump in the election and was a subject of a separate Justice Department investigation into her email practices.

Rosenstein said “I think the answer is no” but said it would depend on the circumstances.

Federal Election Commission records indicate that some members of Mueller’s team have made political donations to Democrats, according to a CNN report.

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11:05 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he wouldn’t follow orders from President Donald Trump or anyone else to fire special counsel Robert Mueller unless they were “lawful and appropriate orders.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked Rosenstein at a budget hearing Tuesday what he would do if Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the U.S. elections and possible Russian ties to Trump’s campaign.

Rosenstein said that if he fired Mueller, he would be required to explain it in writing. He added that “if there were good cause, I would consider it. If there were not good cause it wouldn’t matter what anyone said.”

Rosenstein said Trump has not discussed the special counsel with him.

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11 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he consults with a career ethics official when questions arise about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation.

Under questioning from Sen. Brian Schatz about the scope of Sessions’ recusal, Rosenstein said Sessions “actually does not know what we’re investigating, and I’m not going to be talking about it publicly.”

If questions arise about what matters Sessions should stay away from, he said, a career official in Rosenstein’s office is consulted.

Rosenstein says it would be inappropriate for him to discuss Sessions’ recusal and adds, “we don’t talk about the subject matter of investigations while they are ongoing.”

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10:40 a.m.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he has seen no evidence of good cause to fire the special prosecutor overseeing the Russia investigation.

The comment came in response to questions from Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. She asked about news reports suggesting that President Donald Trump was already thinking about “terminating” Robert Mueller from his position as special counsel. She asked whether he has seen “any evidence of good cause” to fire Mueller. Rosenstein responded: “No I have not.”

Rosenstein says the attorney general would be the only one who could fire Mueller. And since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, Rosenstein is acting in that capacity.

He says he is confident that Mueller will have “the full independence he needs” to investigate thoroughly.

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10:25 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says the White House and President Donald Trump should let the special counsel’s investigation continue, and await vindication.

Ryan told reporters Tuesday: “The best advice would be to let Robert Mueller do his job.”

The Wisconsin Republican commented in response to a Trump friend, Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, who suggested Monday night that the president was already thinking about “terminating” Mueller from his position as special counsel. Such a move would create a firestorm coming weeks after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Ryan said the smartest thing for the president to do would be to let the investigation continue and be vindicated.

Said Ryan: “I know Bob Mueller. I have confidence in Bob Mueller.”

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10:20 a.m.

Two senators say they are disappointed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent his deputy to testify before a committee hearing on the Justice Department’s budget.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Patrick Leahy say Sessions should be responsible for answering questions in a public hearing about his policies. The Justice Department sent Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to testify about the budget instead.

Leahy told Rosenstein “you are not the witness who should be behind this table.”

Shaheen said she has many questions about the federal investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia, including about Sessions’ contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Leahy says he wants to know why Sessions “has provided false testimony” about those contacts.

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7:40 a.m.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee says Congress would not sit still if President Donald Trump decided to fire the special counsel leading the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, says such a move would “be the last straw” for many in Congress and would have “echoes of Watergate,” when President Richard Nixon dismissed special prosecutor Archibald Cox over Cox’s subpoenas for White House tapes.

Trump’s allies have begun raising questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s impartiality – he’s a former FBI director who has worked with fired FBI Director James Comey – and floating the idea that Trump might replace him.

Schiff says that if Trump fires Mueller, Congress might name its own independent counsel to investigate the case. He told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “I don’t think the Congress would sit still and allow the president to pick his own investigator.”

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4:41 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing for sharp questions from his former Senate colleagues about his role in the firing of James Comey and his Russian contacts during the campaign. They will also ask about his decision to recuse from an investigation into possible ties between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump.

The public testimony Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence committee should yield Sessions’ most extensive comments to date on questions that have dogged his entire tenure as attorney general and that led him three months ago to step aside from the Russia probe.

Lawmakers for weeks have demanded answers from Sessions, particularly about meetings he had last summer and fall with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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