By Katie Bo Williams - 05-11-17 12:11 PM EDT
The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting on Thursday abruptly stepped out of a long-scheduled hearing on worldwide threats for a previously-undisclosed meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The two lawmakers said that they had requested the meeting prior to President Trump's shocking decision to fire former FBI director James B. Comey on Tuesday - a move that came after a recommendation by Rosenstein, though Trump on Thursday said he was going to fire Comey regardless.
- ABC News (@ABC) May 11, 2017
Rosenstein did not discuss his role in Comey's dismissal, according to chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.), although ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he raised the director's ouster as evidence of the need for a special prosecutor.
The decision to appoint a special prosecutor to the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the election rests with Rosenstein. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the case.
Instead, the two lawmakers worked with Rosenstein to coordinate their concurrent investigation into Russian interference in the election. Congressional probes typically seek to avoid interfering with any Justice Department investigations that cover the same ground.
"We felt that there was a great need to set up a process for deconfliction, so when we had witnesses we needed to talk to, we made sure we weren't stepping on top of [the active investigation]," Burr said.
The committee on Wednesday issued a subpoena for documents from former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Both Burr and Warner called the meeting successful in its stated objective, although Warner added that he still felt concerns over Rosenstein's role in Comey's departure.
"I expressed - and this is where the chairman and I disagree - the need for this narrowly-tailed independent counsel. He took it under advisement," Warner said.
U.S. Attorney Dana Boente was also present for the meeting.
The surprise meeting caused an uproar Thursday morning when Rosenstein was seen walking into the committee's meeting space just moments before Burr unexpectedly handed off the gavel to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
He and Warner had a meeting "we can't push off," he told the panel, which included FBI acting director Andrew McCabe.
"The inmates are running the asylum!" crowed Cotton, taking the gavel as Burr and Warner slipped out of the back of the hearing room.
McCabe was providing testimony in lieu of Comey and had faced pointed questions from Democrats on the White House's level of involvement in the Russia investigation.
Justice Department spokesman Sarah Flores confirmed that the meeting was requested by the committee chairman "long before events of this week," calling the meeting.
"Nothing unusual," she said.
- This story was updated at 1:33 p.m.