During an event in New York City Thursday evening, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein shared his feelings about the special counsel’s Russia investigation, while throwing shade on critics, politicians, the media, and the Obama administration.
Speaking at a dinner where he was honored by the Armenian Bar Association, Rosenstein defended his handling of the probe, recalling how he had promised to “do it right” during his Senate confirmation hearing and to “take it to the appropriate conclusion.”
“It’s not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges,” Rosenstein noted.
Rosenstein said a senator told him: “You’re going to be in charge of this [Russia] investigation. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you’ll do it right, that you’ll take it to its conclusion and you’ll report [your results] to the American people.” Rosenstein agreed to the first two things the senator asked, but then explained, “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. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.”
He said that there were “some critical decisions” about the investigation that had been made before he got there. “The previous administration,” he added, “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.”
Rosenstein added that “the FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffs, lawmakers and their staffers,” and then “someone selectively leaked details to the news media.”
He then reminded his audience that then-FBI Director James Comey announced during a congressional hearing that “there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges.”
“Then the former FBI director alleged that the president pressured him to close the investigation, and the president denied that the conversation occurred,” he continued.
“So that happened!” he deadpanned.
— Sarah Leah Whitson (@sarahleah1) April 26, 2019
Because then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions chose to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Rosenstein was left with the job of overseeing it to its conclusion.
“As acting attorney general, it was my responsibility to make sure that the Department of Justice would do what the American people pay us to do: conduct an independent investigation,” Rosenstein said, and “complete it expeditiously.”
— Byron York (@ByronYork) April 26, 2019
“The bottom line is that there was overwhelming evidence that Russian operatives had hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens, and that was only the tip of the iceberg of a comprehensive Russian strategy to influence elections, promote social discord and undermine America,” he continued.
Now that the special counsel’s investigation is over, Rosenstein added, “[O]ur nation is safer, elections are more secure, and citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence schemes.” But he noted that “not everybody was happy with my decision, in case you did not notice.”
Rosenstein, who is leaving the Justice Department next month after suffering blistering criticism for the past two years from all quarters over the investigation, then quoted former Attorney General Robert Jackson, who said about 80 years ago: “We must have the courage to face any ‘temporary criticism’ because ‘the moral authority of our legal process’ depends on the commitment of government lawyers to act impartially.”
He addressed reports that he lost his temper at times during the investigation, saying that one “silly question that I get from reporters” is whether it’s true that he ever got angry. “Heck, yes, didn’t you?” he quipped.
Rosenstein also explained what was going through his mind while he was standing behind Bill Barr at that press conference a couple of weeks ago “with a deadpan expression.”
Rod Rosenstein speaking in NYC:
“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.'” pic.twitter.com/t3vvi7Q9VH
— Philip Bump (@pbump) April 26, 2019