The White House had not been giving them much to go on to answer all those unpleasant questions: The previous day’s list of talking points issued to congressional Republicans urged them to take up the president’s claim that the leaks were the real scandal. The document included a numbered section entitled “Top Ten Politically Motivated Criminal Leaks of Classified Information.” (A House Republican staffer likened this defense to “It’s not that I’m beating my wife, it’s that my kids are telling the cops about it.”) But now they could simply say that the whole thing was out of their hands.
Inside the briefing, some Democrats pressed Rosenstein for more information, and once they emerged, they declared themselves less than satisfied by his answers. “He declined to answer in any meaningful way questions about the process that led to the decision to fire Jim Comey—the preparation of his memo, who he consulted, who told him to prepare it—we must have asked that question about 25 different ways,” said Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.
Democrats stressed the importance of continuing the congressional investigations and having them in the open. “The public deserves a strong, open, public oversight by Congress on how Russia was trying to influence our country, and whether it is still trying influence our country,” declared Pat Leahy of Vermont.
“There is mounting evidence of obstruction of justice,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “The special counsel must pursue all the evidence.”
Democrats and Republicans alike praised the choice of Mueller. The Republicans, as they emerged, were more apt to stress the importance of deferring to him: “Director Mueller, as special counsel, is doing this investigation, and we don’t want to do anything to get in the way,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas. With all of the oversight investigations occurring in various committees and subcommittees, he said, “that is a train wreck waiting to happen.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asked whether the Rosenstein briefing had made him more or less “comfortable” with the events of the week. “Well, I don’t know if it’s a level of comfort,” he said. “I think it’s a level of the fact that we are a nation of laws, and we have institutions, and irrespective of people’s political views, those laws and those rules are going to be followed.”
As Rubio walked away from the microphones, I asked him if he thought Trump’s presidency was in crisis. He blinked and mumbled, “Um, we’re not at that point,” before dashing away.
It has become a Capitol Hill cliché lately that the days feel like weeks and the weeks feel like years. Lulls in the news feel ominous, and you never know what is going to happen. Tempers are fraying: the GOP’s congressional candidate in Montana’s special election last week tackled a reporter for pressing for his position on health care (and still won the election). “There is total weirdness out there,” Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina said after the Montana incident. Trump, Sanford said, had “unearthed some demons.”