FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein speaks at the Los Angeles Crimefighters Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A main figure in an investigation of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign’s contacts with Russia is due to testify on Wednesday in a politically charged U.S. Senate probe led by a Republican ally of President Donald Trump.
The first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in an inquiry that Trump hopes will unearth evidence of a conspiracy to undermine his candidacy and later his presidency, is set to start at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
The panel will hear from former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed onetime FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel in 2017 to investigate suspected Russian interference in the election.
Democrats have raised concerns that Republicans intend to use the Senate probe to attack Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Biden was vice president in 2016 when the FBI opened a probe code-named “Crossfire Hurricane” after an unidentified foreign government warned about contact between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump ally, has asked the panel to grant him authority to subpoena dozens of witnesses including Biden’s campaign chairman, Steve Ricchetti, who was also his chief of staff in the previous administration.
“What I’m looking at is … what happened in the Carter Page case? Why did it take two years for the Mueller investigation? What evidence existed in early 2017?” Graham told reporters.
In December, the Justice Department inspector general found that authorities committed numerous errors, including mistakes in seeking approval to surveil Page, a Trump campaign adviser. The watchdog’s report found no political bias.
The Mueller probe, which superseded “Crossfire Hurricane,” found that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy and that the campaign had numerous contacts with Russians. But Mueller concluded that there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Moscow.
Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Grant McCool