It’s not exactly a palate-cleanser for the evening, but at least it has fireworks. The first public hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s probe of Operation Crossfire Hurricane put former deputy AG Rod Rosenstein on the hot seat today. Sen. Ted Cruz teed off on Rosenstein and the Obama-era Department of Justice in a fiery examination, at one point arguing that the attempt to kneecap an incoming administration made Crossfire Hurricane worse than Watergate.

“Either that you were complicit in the wrongdoing, which I don’t believe was the case,” Cruz thundered at Rosenstein, “or that your performance of your duties was grossly negligent.” For his part, however, Rosenstein never did get pushed into admitting much, which means fireworks are pretty much all Senate Republicans got out of today’s session (via Red State):

“Are you aware of other instances the Department of Justice employees fraudulently creating evidence to submit to court?” Cruz asked.

“Every instance that I am aware of, senator, would be appropriately investigated and — and hopefully appropriate action would be taken,” Rosenstein responded. …

“On May 17, you appointed Bob Mueller the special counsel. On June 29, you signed the third [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application. On Aug. 2, you signed the second scope application,” Cruz said.

He continued, “Was there any more important case the Department of Justice had that an investigation into whether the president of the United States is a Russian asset, colluding against the United States?”

Rosenstein replied: “Well, that’s the way you’re characterizing the investigation, senator. There was certainly lots of important investigations, but I view this as one of the most important.”

The most important point scored by Cruz in his interrogation comes near the end. The predicate for the continued pursuit of Michael Flynn — the heart of Crossfire Hurricane — was ludicrous on its face, Cruz declared, and said Rosenstein should have jolly well known it, too. The Logan Act is an unconstitutional absurdity, Cruz said, and has never been prosecuted successfully since its passage — and hardly ever attempted. “John Kerry is probably violating the Logan Act right now,” Cruz quipped, adding quickly that the law’s unconstitutional nature makes it a non-sequitur. How did Rosenstein allow that probe to continue on the basis of the Logan Act? Rosenstein never does give a clear answer to that question.

It didn’t get any easier for Rosenstein after that, either:

Hawley at one point cut him off when he was trying to explain that he relied on information the FBI gathered, in which an agent swore under oath that the facts were correct, when signing off on a FISA application.

“I know and that’s why you can’t be held responsible. Everyone at the FBI says they can’t be held responsible and so at the end of the day it’s nobody’s fault,” Hawley said.

Rosenstein held his ground, telling Hawley he was being “accountable” by showing up to testify.

“I’m here being chastised by you…yelling at me is not going to solve the problem,” Rosenstein said.

No, but it sure makes everyone feel good afterward. To quote from Thank You for Smoking, “It’s good to see that the public beating has not gone out of style.” The real issue isn’t so much what happened after Rosenstein’s arrival at the DoJ, but what took place before that. Republicans argue that the Obama administration abused their authority to remove Flynn and to try to remove Donald Trump too, but Rosenstein wouldn’t have any testimony to offer on that score. To move the ball on that theory, Republicans will have to get Obama-era officials under oath, and that … will probably take some doing.

This isn’t the only game in town, however. John Durham is conducting an investigation into that very theory, and he has full law-enforcement authority for warrants and subpoenas. In a very large sense, this is just a sideshow. An entertaining sideshow, and perhaps even a salutary sideshow in establishing some public costs to reputation for incompetence and political manipulations at the DoJ, but it’s the Durham probe that will either establish that theory with indictments … or dismiss it with the lack of them.