Senators to grill Sessions’ potential deputy over Russia issues

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Democrats aren’t finished with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and they’re using the Senate confirmation hearing for his potential second in command as an opportunity to grill him on the Trump’s administration’s potential ties to Russia and the President’s baseless claim of being wiretapped by his predecessor.

Senators on the Judiciary Committee will question Rod J. Rosenstein, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general, which is traditionally a low profile position. The session is expected to draw more attention given the controversy surrounding Sessions’ recent decision to recuse himself from any potential investigations related to the Trump campaign or transition.

Democrats on the panel will likely use the hearing as a referendum on the conduct of Trump, whether Sessions lied under oath and how best to proceed with an investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election.

Last week, details emerged about two meetings Sessions had last year with the Russian ambassador to the US that he did not disclose during his confirmation process. If confirmed as Sessions’ deputy, Rosenstein would oversee any potential investigations or prosecutions into Trump surrogates and Russians — including the key decision on whether to appoint a special prosecutor — now that Sessions has recused himself.

But views on the special prosecutor issue break along party lines.

“We’re going to ask him point blank whether a special prosecutor is necessary,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday morning — whereas Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, is expected to underscore the transparency and accountability failings of special counsel inquiries in his opening remarks.

Rosenstein could also likely face questions about Trump’s claim from over the weekend that President Barack Obama ordered the then-Republican presidential nominee be wiretapped, without presenting any evidence to back up the claim. Obama, though a spokesman, has denied doing so, as has his former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Rosenstein, a career prosecutor, currently serves as the US attorney for the District of Maryland. He won unanimous Senate confirmation to his current post in 2005 under President George W. Bush and stayed on as the top federal prosecutor in Baltimore under the Obama administration.

The committee will also hear from Trump’s nominee for associate attorney general, Rachel Brand, who, if confirmed, will oversee the Civil Division, which defends the administration in the hotly contested lawsuits over the travel ban.