Rod Rosenstein won’t stick around much longer at the Department of Justice, but the deputy Attorney General will make his departure memorable. At a dinner hosted by the Armenian Bar Association, Rosenstein took aim at critics, the media, and especially Russia, whose aims at destabilizing the US remain vastly underappreciated, he warned. However, when describing his last two years at the center of the Russiagate maelstrom, Rosenstein took veiled shots at the Obama administration, James Comey, and Congress for their roles in stoking those fires:
At my confirmation hearing in March 2017, a Republican Senator asked me to make a commitment. He said: “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.”
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. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.
Some critical decisions about the Russia investigation were made before I got there. 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. Then the former FBI Director alleged that the President pressured him to close the investigation, and the President denied that the conversation occurred.
So that happened.
There is no mistaking Rosenstein’s meaning, even if he didn’t attach names to those allegations. Until now, many just assumed that Rosenstein would have a lot to say about Donald Trump once he left the Department of Justice. That impression has some reasonable basis; Trump occasionally took public potshots at Rosenstein, and at one point seemed on the verge of firing him. Rosenstein only mentioned Trump once by name in the whole speech, however, and that was a positive reference to a Trump quote about the rule of law. One gets the impression from this passage that he will have much more to say about the actions and inactions that took place before Trump ever got to the White House.
Rosenstein offered this metaphor as a hint:
There is a story about firefighters who found a man on a burning bed. When they asked how the fire started, he replied, “I don’t know. It was on fire when I lay down on it.” I know the feeling.
The outgoing DAG had a few words for the media too, especially those he termed “mercenary critics”:
Then there are the 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. I saw one of the professional provocateurs at a holiday party. He said, “I’m sorry that I’m making your life miserable.” And I said, “You do your job, and I’ll do mine.” …
In our Department, we disregard the mercenary critics and focus on the things that matter. As Goethe said, “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” A republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle. Some of the nonsense that passes for breaking news today would not be worth the paper was printed on, if anybody bothered to print it. It quickly fades away. The principles are what abide.
On a more philosophical note, Rosenstein warned about the dangers of news-cycle governance. He related remarks from a retiring Congressman about why he decided not to run for another term:
Last year, a congressman explained why he decided not to run for reelection. He said, “I like … job[s] where facts matter. I like jobs where fairness matters. I like jobs where, frankly, … the process matters.”
He was describing an American courtroom. “I like the art of persuasion,” he said. “I like finding 12 people who have not already made up their minds and … may [let] the facts prevail. That’s not where we are in politics.”
That congressman spoke the truth. It may never be where we are in politics. But it must always be where we are in law.
That was almost certainly Trey Gowdy speaking, although Rosenstein doesn’t mention the name. It sounds like a mission statement for Rosenstein’s post-DoJ life. He may never achieve the same level of public notice as he currently enjoys in his position, but it seems doubtful that Rosenstein ever plans to fully retire and refrain from commentary. If this valediction is any hint of what might come in the future, then a whole new set of people should be concerned about what he’ll say once freed of the constraints of his current office.