Rosenstein Fires Back at Critics

The Deputy Attorney General has some things to say about Congress, the press, and others.

US Government Photo in Public Domain

Rod Rosenstein has been the subject of criticism from President Trump, his supporters, and his critics since taking over supervision of the Russia investigation after FBI James Comey was fired. On his way out the door, he’s speaking up.

Speaking at the Public Servants Dinner of the Armenian Bar Association, Rosenstein unleashed his sharpest critique yet of those who have attacked his handling of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigative report into Russian election interference and President Trump’s conduct.


He also said that, even after the Mueller report documented Russian interference in the 2016 election, that is only a small part of the story.
“The bottom line is, there was overwhelming evidence that Russian operatives hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens, and that is only the tip of the iceberg of a comprehensive Russian strategy to influence elections, promote social discord, and undermine America, just like they do in many other countries,” Rosenstein said.


In his speech, Rosenstein critiqued Congress, politics and the media, and defended the Justice Department as an institution whose mission is to rise above partisanship and focus on facts.

“I do not care how police officers, prosecutors and judges vote, just as I do not care how soldiers and sailors vote. That is none of my business. I only care whether they understand that when they are on duty, their job is about law and not politics,” said Rosenstein, who has worked at the Justice Department for decades.

“There is not Republican justice and Democrat justice. There is only justice and injustice,” he said.


The deputy attorney general recalled that at his confirmation hearing, he made promises about how the Russia investigation would be handled.

“I did pledge to do it right and take it to the appropriate conclusion. I did not promise to report all results to the public, because grand jury investigations are ex parte proceedings. It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings,” he said. “We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.”

Leading up to the release of the Mueller report, Rosenstein had argued against too much transparency, citing Justice Department policies that generally don’t reveal derogatory information about people who have not been charged with a crime, according to people familiar with the discussions. Ultimately, Barr decided to publicly release more.

Rosenstein insisted the investigation had been conducted fairly and conscientiously, and that as a result, “our nation is safer, elections are more secure, and citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence schemes. But not everybody was happy with my decision, in case you did not notice.”

He denounced what he called “mercenary critics, who get paid to express passionate opinions about any topic, often with little or no information. They do not just express disagreement. They launch ad hominem attacks unrestricted by truth or morality. They make threats, spread fake stories and even attack your relatives.”

Rosenstein also took some shots at the press.

“Some of the nonsense that passes for breaking news today would not be worth the paper it was printed on, if anybody bothered to print it,” he said. “One silly question that I get from reporters is, ‘Is it true that you got angry and emotional a few times over the past few years?’ Heck yes! Didn’t you?”

He also tried to joke off questions that emerged over his appearance last week at Barr’s press conference ahead of the release of the Mueller report, in which he appeared ashen-faced.

“Last week, the big topic of discussion was: ‘What were you thinking when you stood behind Bill Barr at that press conference, with a deadpan expression?’ The answer is: I was thinking, “My job is to stand here with a deadpan expression.’ ”

The audience applauded.

“Can you imagine if I did anything other than stand there at the press conference? Imagine the reaction and the commentary if I had smiled or grimaced,” Rosenstein said. “But you cannot avoid criticism. The only way you can avoid criticism in public service is if you stay home. But somebody actually has to do the work, and therefore you have to accept the criticism that comes with the job.”

WaPo, “Rosenstein fires back at critics over Mueller report

I’m sympathetic to Rosenstein’s point of view on this, in that he was trying to lead an apolitical investigation of an inherently political subject. And it’s interesting that, as much criticism as Attorney General Barr has taken for redacting so much of the Mueller report, Rosenstein advocated for even greater redactions.

I happen to think Rosenstein is right, especially about the ex parte nature of grand jury procedures. Releasing what amounts to a prosecutor’s brief against people the prosecutor has decided should not be prosecutor would be outrageous. It’s bad enough when the full force of the state is arrayed against a citizen to see whether they might have committed any crimes. That process alone is stressful and potentially financially ruinous. To have that topped off by the release of embarrassing information would be too much.

But, of course, we’re not dealing here with ordinary citizens but the President of the United States and his close associates. The same rules of justice have to apply but, alas, falling just shy of committing provable crimes is hardly the standard to which we should hold our public officials. And it’s especially problematic with the President himself—especially when there are rules in place saying he can’t be prosecuted by his own Justice Department. That’s a hell of a Catch-22.

All that said, I rather wish Rosenstein had held his fire another few weeks until he became a private citizen again. I’m not sure the Deputy Attorney General should share his opinions about the Congress, the media, or pretty much anything else. Defending his Department and its people? Absolutely. But he should otherwise appear above the fray.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mikey says:

    “The bottom line is, there was overwhelming evidence that Russian operatives hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens, and that is only the tip of the iceberg of a comprehensive Russian strategy to influence elections, promote social discord, and undermine America, just like they do in many other countries,” Rosenstein said.

    The ultimate scandals here are how Trump and his supporters are both pretending this had no effect and how Trump himself is utterly abdicating his sworn duty to protect America against a repeat. I mean, holy shit, we learned this week the former head of DHS was told not to even bring the issue to the President.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    @Mikey: beat me to the money quote. Does Roesenstein think anybody should do anything about it? Apparently not. Or at least not him, or Mueller, or the FBI, or DOJ. On what basis does Rosenstein claim we are now safer?

    Discussion of release of the unredacted report seems to often smear over the distinction between release to the public and release to congress. There is ample precedent for release to the appropriate congressional committees, but Nadler has had to subpoena such release and is being fought. And Warner and Schiff have apparently seen nothing from the intelligence investigation that’s supposedly still going on.

    We’re being attacked, is anybody doing anything about it?

  3. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: the political party that controls the White House and the Senate, and is indirectly preventing Twitter from kicking white supremacists off the platform, is fine with Russian influence in their favor.

    Stupid people with shitty values. And America may not survive it.

    ETA just yesterday I read that Republicans in Tennessee are trying to pass a new law that would in effect make it impossible for groups to register voters. And last week, or the week before, someone reminded me of the Steven Moore clip where he said he likes capitalism and democracy, but capitalism is more important than democracy. If these guys just straight-up turn against voting in the next few years it won’t surprise me.

  4. Bob@youngstown says:

    As Muellers supervisor, it was always clear to me that Rosenstein would never have permitted Mueller to initiate prosecution of the President regardless of the facts determined during an investigation.

    The 1973 OLC advice to the procedures manual, is more persuasive than a concept that no man is above the law.

  5. Guarneri says:

    Funny that this part of his speech was left out. Lies of ommission.

    The previous Administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to a broader strategy to undermine America. The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media. The FBI Director announced at a congressional hearing that there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges.

  6. al Ameda says:

    I do understand what Rod Rosenstein is doing and saying here but, again I come away from this thinking that yet another high level official has been diminished by his association with Trump.

  7. Moosebreath says:


    Speaking of lies of omission, this certainly qualifies:

    “The previous Administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to a broader strategy to undermine America.”

    “Joe Biden said Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped the Obama administration from speaking out about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign by refusing to sign on to a bipartisan statement of condemnation.” link.

    If you argument is based upon outright distortions, then…

    it is par for the course for you.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Yeah, about that intel investigation. As I understand the process, they investigate, they decide on appropriate overt and perhaps covert action, they write it up as a classified intelligence finding, the president signs the finding, and they act. And if the President* doesn’t sign? James, you have any insight into the process?

  9. Franklin says:

    @Guarneri: It’s not clear of Rosenstein even intended that as criticism. It may have been a strategic move during the investigation to not tip off the Russians what we knew. Or maybe the Obama administration was correctly predicting that the fact of interference would be distorted by politics. Or there may not have been agreement with McConnell, as Moosebreath has indicated. In any case, I am speculating, but admittedly so.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Interested in omission are you? You know the questions by now. Your refusal/inability to answer simple, straightforward questions exposes you as a fraud, a man devoid of intellectual integrity.

    The fact that you choose most often to appear here with some generally idiotic snark about race and/or gender, reveals your inner self. See, your snark always rests on an attitude of resentment. Resentment against whom? Women. Minorities. I’m sure in your mind you’re not a racist because you never use the N word. And I’m sure when you cop a feel off a subordinate woman, you don’t mean anything by it, how dare they get upset? But it’s not 1980 anymore, time to update your software, because if you’re not a racist and misogynist you’re doing a damned good impression of one.

    If we graphed your IQ over the last ten years I wonder how much of a decline we’d see? 10%? 20%? You’re starting to sing Daisy…Daisy… as your mind deteriorates. It’s fascinating in a gruesome sort of way, watching your cluelessness about your own decline. I’m not gloating, I have two relatives in various stages of dementia, and hell, could be me next year. But right now it’s you, dude, and everyone sees it but you.