Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today delivered remarks at a hearing to consider the nominations of Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general and Rachel Brand to be associate attorney general.
Excerpts from Feinstein’s remarks:
- “I believe we need an independent criminal investigation into Russian influence. It’s vitally important that the American people have trust in this investigation and that there is not even the appearance of a conflict of interest or political influence. So that’s why I continue to support the appointment of a special prosecutor to lead the investigation.”
- “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, someone who has a reputation for integrity and impartial decision-making and who is independently selected—not by the attorney general.”
Senator Feinstein’s full remarks follow:
“Today we begin our consideration of the nominees to fill two really important positions within the Department of Justice. The deputy attorney general essentially leads the day-to-day operations of the Justice Department and also directly oversees the Solicitor General’s Office, the Office of Legal Counsel and the law enforcement components like the FBI, the DEA and the ATF.
Significantly, the deputy attorney general steps in when the attorney general cannot or should not be involved in a particular matter.
The associate attorney general is effectively the number three position and oversees critically important components of the Justice Department, including the Civil Rights Division, the Environment and Natural Resources Division, the Civil Division, and the Office on Violence Against Women.
From national security to voting rights, and from consumer protection to immigration litigation, both of these positions carry tremendous responsibility within the Justice Department.
So I want to take a moment to welcome the two nominees here today—Rod Rosenstein and Rachel Brand—and congratulate them for having been nominated to such major posts in the Justice Department. I had the pleasure of meeting with them yesterday and both certainly appear well-qualified.
If confirmed, they will be part of a senior leadership team that will help shape policies and priorities that will affect all of us in America, and they will help determine the direction of the Justice Department over the next four years.
Unfortunately, at this early stage in the new administration, there have already been some concerning developments.
First, the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was abruptly fired by the president for taking a principled stand on the executive order banning individuals from certain majority-Muslim countries—and her stance was then vindicated by the 9th Circuit.
Second, instead of taking strong stands to protect the voting rights and civil rights of all, the department has taken steps to further erode those rights.
Specifically, we already see the Civil Rights Division switching positions in important cases like the Texas voter identification law or withdrawing its guidance relating to transgender students. This reversal of course, away from policies that uphold and protect civil rights for all Americans, is unfortunate, but it well may reveal the intended path of the future.
Over the past several weeks there have been numerous press stories about the White House attempting to direct communications for ongoing investigations and even direct U.S. attorneys on how to argue cases.
I continue to strongly believe that the case can be made for an independent investigation that is insulated from any potential political influence. So I very much support the appointment of a special prosecutor to lead the investigation into Russian influence in the election.
I believe we need an independent criminal investigation into Russian influence. It’s vitally important that the American people have trust in this investigation and that there is not even the appearance of a conflict of interest or political influence. So that’s why I continue to support the appointment of a special prosecutor to lead the investigation.
To be clear, I do not say this because I question the integrity or the ability of Mr. Rosenstein. I do not. But this is about more than just one individual. This is about the integrity of the process and the public’s faith in our institutions of justice.
Justice Department regulations clearly provide for the appointment of a special counsel when there is a “conflict of interest for the department or other extraordinary circumstances,” and where the appointment of a special counsel would be “in the public interest.”
By his own words, Attorney General Sessions was a surrogate for the Trump campaign. He has admitted he met with the Russian ambassador on two occasions. And on Friday, the attorney general announced he believes he should recuse himself—and he has.
In addition, the investigation into Russia’s interference could very well involve officials in the Trump administration. All these factors demonstrate that there is—at the minimum—an appearance of a conflict of interest, which is what’s needed under the regulations.
In addition if you look back to December 2003, when Attorney General Ashcroft recused himself from the Valerie Plame case, that very same day then-Deputy Attorney General Comey appointed a special prosecutor. He said he did so out of an abundance of caution and to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
I believe the same abundance of caution is warranted here. 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, someone who has a reputation for integrity and impartial decision-making and who is independently selected—not by the attorney general.
From the outset, we need a respected prosecutor who is independently selected and free of any partisan or political background.
I am also concerned about the Justice Department’s role in dismantling important rules and regulations that, among other things, help protect consumers, keep people safe and protect our environment. Through executive orders and congressional repeals, President Trump and his allies are taking unprecedented steps to help big business but harm average Americans.
I’ve had an opportunity to meet with both Mr. Rosenstein and Ms. Brand as I said. They both have impressive credentials and I enjoyed meeting with them.
But as we all know, the test of leadership and suitability for a job is not how nice you are or how well you get along. It is whether the Justice Department or our courts—whether in those departments we need independent, fair-minded public servants who will adhere to the rule of law and look out for everyone in this country, not just the powerful or well-connected.
We need steel spines not weak knees when it comes to political independence in the Department of Justice.
And there is a real danger, I believe, that the Justice Department could become politicized—and so I hope to hear today from these nominees what they will do to guard against just that.”