Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr shut down a line of questioning from Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) at a hearing in which she asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein whether he planned to sign a letter allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller complete independence from the Justice Department in his investigation of the Trump administration’s Russian ties.
“Senator, I’m very sensitive about time and I’d like to have a very lengthy conversation and explain that all to you,” Rosenstein said to Harris.
“Can you give me a ‘yes or no’ answer?” Harris replied.
“It’s not a short answer, Senator,” Rosenstein said.
“It is,” she responded, cutting him off. “Either you are willing to do that or you are not.”
Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) then cut off Harris.
“Mr. Chairman, they should be allowed to answer the question,” McCain said.
But Harris refused to stand down.
I asked Deputy AG Rosenstein to commit in writing that Mueller has full independence. The American people deserve it. pic.twitter.com/0Wi5o2d5Th
“Are you willing or are you not willing to give him the authority to be fully independent of your ability, statutorily or legally, to fire him?” she pressed Rosenstein moments later.
“He has the…” Rosenstein started.
“Yes or no, sir,” Harris said. “Are you willing to do…”
It was here when Chairman Burr interrupted Harris.
“Will the Senator suspend?” Burr said. “The chair is going to exercise its right to allow the witnesses to answer the question, and the committee is on notice to provide the witnesses the courtesy, which has not been extended all the way across, extend the courtesy for questions to get answered.”
“Mr. Chairman, respectfully, I would point out that this witness has joked, as we all have, his ability to filibuster,” Harris said, before Burr cut her off again.
“Thank you, Senator, I’m not joking,” Rosenstein said. “The truth is I have a lot of experience with these issues and I could speak to you for a very long time about it.”
Rosenstein then launched into a lengthy explanation, but Harris was dissatisfied with his answer.
“So, is that a no?” she asked. Rosenstein remained silent, and Chairman Burr shifted to questions from the next senator on the panel, Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
Democratic supporters like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren came to Harris’s defense.
Burr’s behavior ignited an outcry from Twitter users, who noted it seemed Harris’s fellow senators had learned nothing from the “She persisted” debacle, in which the Senate voted 49-43 to uphold a ruling that Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) violated Senate Rule 19 in her statement opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and his nomination for Attorney General. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) had rebuked Warren, saying she ran afoul of rules which prohibit senators from impugning their colleagues.
Warren’s alleged impunity: Reading a letter Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to Congress in 1986, urging the body to reject the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, and saying that allowing him on the federal bench would “irreparably damage the work of my husband.”
As Warren began to read, Republicans voiced their displeasure. Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana), the presiding officer, was the first to issue a warning, but Warren countered she was merely reading King’s words, and she should be allowed to continue. Senator McConnell denied her request to continue, and his decision was upheld by a party-line vote in the chamber. Warren sought to appeal the ruling, but her colleagues, again along party lines, shut down her appeal.
“Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” McConnell said later. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Those words have come back to haunt Senate Republicans who’ve used their authority to commandeer discussions in the chamber.
A spokesperson for Senator Harris’s office told reporters, “As a career prosecutor and former Attorney General, Kamala Harris has run countless investigations, and she will follow the facts wherever they lead to get to the truth on behalf of the American people,” adding, “That can only happen if witnesses answer questions.”
About The Author
Alan is a writer and editor who lives in New York City. His work has been featured in such publications as The Huffington Post, The Advocate, Towleroad, Elite Daily, and Chelsea Station.