U.S. Probes Into Trump’s Russia Links, Kremlin Meddling Gain Two Heavyweights
The Senate investigation gains a former NSA lawyer. The FBI probe gets a veteran prosecutor.
The flagging U.S. probes into the Trump administration’s ties to the Kremlin are about to get an injection of fresh blood.
Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have tapped April Doss, a former NSA lawyer, to join the committee’s investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. election. Meanwhile, Rod Rosenstein, who was confirmed as deputy attorney general on Tuesday, will take the reins of the Justice Department’s sprawling probe into Trump’s Russia ties and Kremlin meddling.
The two veterans are poised to bring legal and intelligence heft to probes that have been hobbled by a shortage of technical expertise and a lack of political cover at the Justice Department.
Doss brings a relevant set of skills from her time at the NSA where “a lot of the lawyering happens at the intersection of legal authorities and technological capability,” Carrie Cordero, a former DOJ national security official, said.
Rosenstein, who was the top federal prosecutor in Maryland, easily won Senate confirmation on Tuesday. He comes to Justice Department headquarters after an intense clash between his Senate-confirmed predecessor, Sally Yates, and the Trump White House. President Donald Trump fired Yates after she refused to defend his ban on travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the probe after he neglected to disclose his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during his confirmation hearing.
Critics of the Trump administration will be watching closely to see whether Rosenstein is able to maintain his political independence. At his confirmation hearing, Democrats repeatedly pressed the prosecutor to appoint a special counsel to oversee the Russia inquiry. Rosenstein refused but pledged to supervise the probe the way “I would handle any investigation.”
“I can certainly assure you, if it’s America against Russia, or America against any other country, I think everyone in this room knows which side I’m on,” he said.
Rosenstein, who will be heading up one of the most politically charged probes in the bureau’s history, will be responsible for steering the investigation’s path and for approving its most sensitive wiretap applications. He earned praise for his tenure as U.S. attorney for Maryland, which spanned the Bush and Obama administrations. He is widely credited with overhauling an office in disarray when he was appointed to lead it in 2005.
As a U.S. attorney, Rosenstein has led investigations with serious national security implications and the work of the NSA. His office is currently prosecuting the former NSA contractor Hal Martin for allegedly spiriting a huge trove of classified information out of intelligence community facilities and storing them in his home.
Doss, who will serve as special counsel to the Senate investigation, spent 13 years at the NSA where she specialized in intelligence law before joining the law firm Saul Ewing less than a year ago as a partner focusing on privacy and cybersecurity.
She has recently reentered the public debate about surveillance law, particularly as Trump has made accusations that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice “may” have broken the law for making a routine request to unmask the names of Americans who turned out to be Trump aides in a foreign intelligence report.
With Susan Hennessey, another former NSA lawyer, Doss urged former and current intelligence professionals to “lean forward as much as possible to explain how processes like incidental collection and unmasking work” to cut through partisan arguments and confusion.
When asked by Foreign Policy whether or not the Republicans would be hiring their own special counsel, Sen. Richard Burr’s press office declined to comment.
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Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll