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Alex Brandon / AP

Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein told senators Tuesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has "full independence" to investigate the ongoing Russia probe, although he can be fired at any time.

Rosenstein said there was "no basis" for firing Mueller, and he would only dismiss him if there was "good cause" — even if Trump ordered him to do so. Rosenstein later confirmed he is the only person who could fire Mueller, but noted there was "no secret plan" to remove him, or at least, "no secret plan that involves me."

The quote: "I appointed him. I stand by that decision... I am going to defend the integrity of that investigation."

Live updates from the hearing:

  • If you were fired, who would appoint your replacement? "The president," said Rosenstein. He later clarified that he could be fired "without cause" at any time, essentially confirming that there is a higher bar to fire the special prosecutor than the deputy attorney general.
  • Why are you answering the panel's questions instead of Sessions? Rosenstein said he knows what is going on in the Russia investigation, whereas Sessions, who has been recused from the probe, does not. "Nothing gets to the attorney general about the matters he's recused from unless they come through my office."
  • Was it appropriate for Sessions to recommend James Comey's firing given his recusal? Rosenstein said he wouldn't comment.
  • Do you have a time estimate for the Russia investigation? "I regret that I do not," said Rosenstein, but said he understands it needs to be done "expeditiously."

Go deeper

Read: Former Vice President Walter Mondale's last message

Photo courtesy of Mondale.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale wrote a farewell letter to his staff, sent upon his death on Monday, thanking them for years working together.

Dear Team,

Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!

Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.

Joe in the White House certainly helps.

I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!

My best to all of you!

Fritz

Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at 93

Walter Mondale, left, with former President Jimmy Carter in Jan. 2018 at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota's campus in Minneapolis. Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Walter Mondale, who transformed the role of U.S. vice president while serving under Jimmy Carter and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, died Monday at 93, according to a family spokesperson.

The big picture: President Biden, who was mentored by Mondale through the years, said in 2015 that the former vice president gave him a "roadmap" to successfully take on the job.

Scoop: U.S. ambassador refuses Kremlin push to leave Russia

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The United States ambassador to Russia is refusing to leave the country after the Kremlin "advised" him to return home following new Biden administration sanctions, two sources briefed on the situation tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Sullivan, a respected diplomat who President Biden has, so far, retained from the Trump era, is at the center of one of the most important early tests of Biden's resolve.

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