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Harris, Rosenstein tussle over Mueller’s independence before Harris gets cut off

USA Today: Harris, Rosenstein Tussle Over Muller's Independence Before Harris Gets Cut Off

by Jessica Estepa

Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday had a terse exchange with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein over the independence of special counsel Robert Mueller – which led the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee to instruct Harris to stop her questioning.

During a hearing, the California Democrat asked Rosenstein to provide a letter to Mueller that assure he will be fully independent as he leads the Justice Department's investigation into potential collusion between associates of the Trump campaign and Russia.

"Senator, I'm very sensitive about time, and I'd like to have a very lengthy conversation and explain that all to you," Rosenstein began. "I'll try to do that–"

Harris then interrupted: "Can you give me a yes or no answer?"

"–In the closed briefing," Rosenstein finished. "Well, it's not a short answer, senator."

"It is," Harris replied. "Either you are willing to do that or not, as we have precedent in that regard."

Harris herself was then interrupted by fellow committee member John McCain, R-Ariz.

"Mr. Chairman, they should be allowed to answer the question," he said.

Rosenstein then continued his answer, saying it was theoretically true that Mueller could be removed from his position. But Rosenstein said the assurance she had that wouldn't happen was "Robert Mueller's integrity, (acting FBI director) Andrew McCabe's integrity and my integrity."

Harris cut in once more, asking again that Rosenstein put this in writing.

As their verbal tussle continued, committee chairman Richard Burr called on Harris to suspend her questioning.

"The committee is on notice to provide the witnesses the courtesy (of answering), which has not been extended all the way across," he said.

When Harris said Rosenstein had joked about his ability to filibuster, Burr again told her to suspend her questioning and asked Rosenstein to finish his answer.

Rosenstein pointed out that the Senate allowed the independent counsel statute to sunset because lawmakers did not want independent counsels to be completely independent of the Justice Department.

"Under the regulation, he has, I believe, adequate authority to conduct this investigation, and your ultimate check, senator, is, number one, the integrity people of the people involved in the investigation, but number two, the fact that if he were overruled, if he were fired, we would be required to report to the Congress," he said. "I believe that is an appropriate check."

Later on Twitter, Harris defended her methods.

"The American people deserve to know whether the special counsel is fully independent," she wrote. "We need the truth. I won't stop until we get it."

EMILY's List, the political action committee dedicated to getting more pro-choice Democratic women to run for office, called out Burr for his treatment of Harris, saying it was "shameful."

"We’d expect this behavior from Donald Trump – but once again, it looks like the Republican orange doesn’t fall far from the tree. We need more women – and far fewer Burrs – in Congress," the group said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – who was cut short by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while she gave a speech against the nomination of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general – also cheered Harris on.