Govt Accountability Groups Call on Deputy AG to Promptly Appoint an Independent Special Counsel to Handle Russia Investigation

Release Date: 
May 10, 2017

In a letter sent today to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, twenty-four groups and individuals with expertise in government integrity and accountability expressed deep concern about President Trump’s inappropriate firing of FBI Director James Comey yesterday.

The letter called on Rosenstein “to promptly appoint an independent Special Counsel, as authorized by Justice Department regulations, to now oversee and conduct the Russia investigation that Director Comey was leading for the FBI when he was fired yesterday.” 

The recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from any role in the Russia investigations has left Rosenstein as the senior Justice Department official in charge of this investigation..

The groups and individuals included: American Oversight, Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause, CREW, Demand Progress, Democracy 21, Demos, Every Voice, Free Speech for People, Kathleen Clark, MAYDAY America, Norman Eisen – chief White House ethics lawyer 2009-2011, Norman Ornstein, People for the American Way, Project On Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Richard Painter – chief White House ethics lawyer 2005-2007, Represent.Us, Revolving Door Project, Sarah Chayes, Sunlight Foundation, The Agenda Project and United to Protect Democracy. 

The letter to Rosenstein stated: 

As you know, Mr. Comey was leading an FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election and any role that may have been played by the Trump campaign and by associates of President Trump. This is an investigation that could reach White House officials and potentially the President himself. 

The letter pointed out: 

Attorney General Sessions inappropriately recommended firing the FBI Director who was leading the Russia investigation, and in doing so failed to comply with his public commitment to recuse himself from any role in this investigation. The fact that a different matter was cited as the basis for firing Director Comey is irrelevant to the reality that, as a practical matter, Sessions directly intervened in the Russia investigation in contravention of his recusal obligation. 

Furthermore, you are also involved in this action, having written a memo to Attorney General Sessions that recommended the firing of Director Comey, barely two weeks after you assumed office as Deputy Attorney General. Your personal involvement in the firing of Director Comey undermines your ability to continue to lead the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. 

The letter noted that “President Trump is now in position to name a new FBI director who is then supposed to investigate the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and possibly President Trump himself.” 

The letter stated: 

In your memo recommending the firing of Director Comey, you state that the FBI was “unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes.” 

Given your view of the need for “public and congressional trust” in the FBI, that same standard certainly holds true for the Justice Department. “Public and congressional trust” in the Justice Department cannot be restored unless and until you act to protect the integrity and credibility of the Department by promptly appointing an independent Special Counsel. 

According to the letter to Rosenstein:

This chain of events has left the Justice Department with no public credibility in conducting one of the most important investigations undertaken by the Justice Department since the historic Watergate investigation. 

With the integrity and public credibility of the Justice Department clearly at stake now, it is incumbent upon you, and within your authority, to promptly appoint an independent Special Counsel to oversee the Russia investigation and to make all decisions about whether criminal prosecutions are warranted. 

The letter set forth the Justice Department regulations that provide the basis for the appointment of an independent special counsel by Rosenstein. The letter concluded: 

The integrity and credibility of the Justice Department are at stake here.  In the wake of yesterday’s extraordinary firing of the FBI Director, you need to act immediately to restore public confidence in the Justice Department and in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election by appointing an independent Special Counsel to lead that investigation.