Rosenstein defends FBI team, Mueller to Congress

By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated Dec. 13, 2017 at 3:28 PM
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Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told lawmakers Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller is "a dedicated and respected" public servant and disputed any allegations of bias within his team.

The Justice Department's second in command testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary about 90 pages of text messages highlighting conversations of an FBI agent about last year's presidential election.

"I think it would be very difficult... for anybody to find somebody better qualified for this job," Rosenstein said during the hearing. "Director Mueller has, throughout his lifetime, been a dedicated and respected and heroic public servant."

Lawmakers questioned whether the text messages could demonstrate a bias in the FBI amid Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia.

The text messages, released by the department late Tuesday, were sent between FBI special agent and Mueller investigator Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, who were dating at the time.

In one message from March 2016, Page called then-candidate Donald Trump "a loathsome human" -- and in another, Strzok wrote "F Trump." Others indicated Strok and Page favored Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Members of the House panel questioned whether the officials' political leaning affected the investigation.

"I think it's important to recognize that when we talk about political affiliation ... the issue of bias is something different," Rosenstein said. We "recognize we have employees with political opinions. It's our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions."

Mueller's team is investigating whether there was any collusion between Trump's campaign and the Kremlin to sway the election.

Mueller removed Strzok from the investigative team earlier this month after he learned of the messages -- which prompted Trump to say the FBI's reputation is "in tatters."

The Justice Department said Tuesday the messages were made available to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the House judiciary panel chairman, after they were obtained by the department's inspector general.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have suggested that potential biases within the FBI have unfairly influenced investigations -- including the probe of Clinton's use of a private email server.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee's ranking Democrat, said he wants to see all Justice Department documents that could reveal any "politically motivated misconduct" at the FBI.

Goodlatte and other GOP committee members have asked for appointment of a second special counsel to investigate the FBI's decision-making process in the Clinton email investigation.

Rosenstein recently said he is so far pleased with Mueller's investigation and sees no reason to fire him.

"If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not," he said Wednesday.

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