Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will testify to a Senate panel next week one day before James Comey does, setting up dramatic back-to-back Intelligence Committee hearings sure to delve into the firing of the former FBI director.
Rosenstein is set to appear at a public hearing on Wednesday alongside other top intelligence officials to discuss the renewal of expiring surveillance powers. Comey is due to testify Thursday.
It will be Rosenstein’s first appearance on Capitol Hill since he briefed lawmakers in mid-May about Comey’s unexpected removal and the role his memo played in President Donald Trump justifying the controversial firing of the bureau chief.
The White House initially cited Rosenstein’s memo — which claimed Comey’s poor leadership had caused the public to lose faith in the FBI — as the reason for the director’s firing. But Trump later said he had already made up his mind to dismiss Comey before the missive was prepared.
Rosenstein is also the Trump administration official responsible for appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into alleged Russian meddling during the recent U.S. election.
Other intelligence officials testifying before the Senate panel on Wednesday include Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers and Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI.
The subject of the hearing — renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, due to expire at the end of the year — was once considered almost a foregone conclusion.
The powerful spying tools authorized under Section 702 scoop up vast quantities of the online chatter and internet activity of foreign targets and are considered vital to the country’s fight against overseas terrorism.
But the robust programs have become entangled in a controversy over allegations that Trump transition team officials improperly had their identities revealed in intelligence reports created during the Obama administration. Americans whose information is picked up during routine foreign surveillance usually have their identities "masked" in these reports, unless there is a legitimate intelligence purpose to expose the person.
Some Republicans have said they do not want to renew the programs until they receive answers about why certain Trump aides had their names “unmasked.”
Trump himself has trumpeted this “unmasking” as the real scandal, and not the potential collusion between his team and Moscow.