WASHINGTON – Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr shut down a line of questioning from California Sen. Kamala Harris at Wednesday’s high-profile hearing, admonishing her and other Democrats to stop cutting off witnesses.
The move rankled some on Twitter who argued the North Carolina Republican was singling out Harris, one of three women on the intelligence panel, during Wednesday’s contentious hearing.
Harris was pressing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over whether he would sign a letter to give Special Counsel Robert Mueller full independence from the Justice Department in his probe, which would have the same effect as a letter issued for then-Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the investigation into the 2003 leaking of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity.
“Senator, I’m very sensitive about time and I’d like to have a very lengthy conversation and explain that all to you,” Rosenstein told Harris.
“Can you give me a ‘yes or no’ answer?” Harris responded.
“It’s not a short answer, senator,” Rosenstein said.
“It is. Either you are willing to do that or you are not,” she responded, cutting his answer short.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona then cut off Harris.
“Mr. Chairman, they should be allowed to answer the question,” McCain said, which was the second time he had interjected during Democratic questions — the first time was during Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
Rosenstein then started discussing how Fitzgerald could have been fired and the integrity of Mueller and himself to let Mueller’s probe proceed properly. Harris continued with her questioning, “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?
“He has the…” Rosenstein began.
“Yes or no, sir,” Harris pressed. She added, “Are you willing to do …”
“Will the senator suspend?” Burr interjected. “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 argued, before Burr stopped her again.
“The senator will suspend,” Burr said. “Mr. Rosenstein, would you like to thoroughly answer the question?”
“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 gave a lengthy answer, but it did not satisfy Harris.
“So, is that a no?” she said.
Rosenstein did not answer.
“Sen. Cornyn,” Burr said, moving on to questions from the next senator on the panel, Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
After the exchange, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was famously halted from speaking earlier this year on the Senate floor, tweeted her support for her fellow Democrat.
“Silencing @SenKamalaHarris for not being “courteous” enough is just unbelievable. Keep fighting, Kamala! #NeverthelessShePersisted” Warren tweeted.