MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Investigate the investigators - that has been a mantra of the president when talking about the Russia investigation. Today, Senate Republicans did just that. And a man who was at the center of all of it, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee about all that has been learned. NPR election security editor Phil Ewing is here to talk us through what Rosenstein had to say.
PHILIP EWING, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: May I start with an observation? Does this seem a little out of left field? With everything going on in the country right now, senators are focused today on the Russia investigation?
EWING: I mean, the short answer for that is, politics. The long answer is, it's a very long story, as I know you remember.
KELLY: Oh, yes.
EWING: Other subsequent looks back have found problems with the way some officials in the FBI and the Justice Department acted in the Russia investigation. The big-picture conclusion is that the Russians interfered but no Americans conspired with them. That's all still legit. Rosenstein stood behind Mueller in his findings today. But in one specific case, that of a former junior aide to Donald Trump named Carter Page, there were many problems. And the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, and other Republicans call the Page case an abuse of power. They had an important moment today when Graham asked Rosenstein whether if he knew then what he knows now, would he have signed the application to continue surveillance on Carter Page?
KELLY: Been a while since we have talked about the name Carter Page. But what did Rosenstein say? What was his answer?
EWING: He said, no. With the knowledge he has today from these subsequent investigations, he would not have signed that application. So that was an important moment. The Justice Department's inspector general has found a number of problems with this submission to the secret court that authorizes collection on Americans. Rosenstein said he didn't know about those problems at the time he was in his old job in the Justice Department. From what he remembered, he said the application made a convincing case, and his perspective has evolved since then, he said.
Graham and Republicans want to continue to highlight what they call these problems with federal law enforcement from those days but also now this year to tie them to former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, both on Page and in the case of other surveillance that took place at the end of the Obama-era and into the beginning of the Trump administration. Biden is the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president this year, and so Republicans want to underscore what they call the links between those abuses and Biden. Here's what Texas senator Republican Ted Cruz said about that today.
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TED CRUZ: By any measure, what the Obama-Biden administration did in 2016 and 2017 makes everything Richard Nixon even contemplated pale in comparison.
KELLY: Let me hold us here for a second, Phil, because as you mentioned, with Biden now running for president, this takes on perhaps added significance. What is Biden saying about allegedly being tied in with these abuses of power?
EWING: The campaign has rejected that out of hand. And one thing it's pointed out is that, the way this system works and worked at the time, there was no way for U.S. officials who were serving to single out Americans by name in the intelligence reporting. That's kind of a whole other story. A campaign spokesman also said in a statement today, quote, "Sen. Graham sold his conscience in exchange for a better shot at winning his primary," close quote, tying this directly into the political year that we're in. The Democrats on the committee also said that Graham, in their view, is wasting time, and this is a distraction from bigger problems. He and the White House want to obscure the pandemic, the economy and law enforcement.
KELLY: Just real quick, Phil, are we looking at more hearings to come still looking back at the Russia investigation?
EWING: Yes. Senator Graham, the chairman, wants to call witnesses and issue subpoenas and look at what he calls continued questions of integrity within the Justice Department. And he also wants to put out some kind of report about this in the autumn ahead of Election Day. That's in parallel to another investigation in the Senate.
EWING: And many of the senators today say they encouraged...
EWING: ...These efforts, so we're going to be hearing a lot about it this year.
KELLY: All right. NPR's Phil Ewing.
EWING: Thank you.
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