Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticized the Obama administration’s handling of Russia’s alledged interference in the 2016 election and took a shot at fired FBI Director James Comey in a closed-door speech Thursday evening.
“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,” Rosenstein said before the Public Servants Dinner of the Armenian Bar Association in New York.
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
Rosenstein, who oversaw special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into now-debunked collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, defended the Department of Justice’s handling of the near-two year probe.
“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,” said the beleaguered Deep Stater.
He then defended his own role in supervising the investigation and the transparency of its findings. “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,” Rosenstein argued. “It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.”
Last month, the Justice Department released a summary of Mueller’s findings. The four-page document sent to Congressional leaders revealed the special counsel found no evidence of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Both Attorney General William Barr and Rosenstein also found President Donald Trump had not obstructed justice, a conclusion that Team Mueller punted to top Justice Department officials to determine.
In an eyebrow-raising knock on Comey, Rosenstein remarked how the ousted law enforcement official notified Congressional investigators about the bureau’s counterintelligence operations in the midst of the 2016 election.
“The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media,” he said. “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.”
Rosenstein, who is slated to depart from the Justice Department in two months, has been besieged by controversy since the Mueller investigation began. According to various reports and testimony of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, Rosenstein offered to wear a wire while in meeting with President Trump at the White House. In the days following Comey’s May 2017 firing, Rosenstein is said to have discussed the idea with top FBI officials, including fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, as part of an effort to lobby Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president.
Baker testified to the House Judiciary Committee last October that Rosenstein said two Cabinet members were willing to invoke the amendment. While Rosenstein has denied conservations about donning a wire were serious, McCabe has said others. In an interview with 60 Minutes, McCabe said the justice department’s number two “was not joking,” adding that “He was absolutely serious. And in fact, he brought it up in the next meeting we had.”