Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says he's not a fan of "piling on" — especially when he's the one at the bottom of the heap.
Rosenstein, a frequent target of President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans because he oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, was discussing a recently announced Justice Department policy that encourages coordination between law enforcement when he seemed to make a quip about his own predicament.
"When I announced the new policy a few weeks ago, I explained that the term ‘piling on’ refers to a football player jumping on a pile of other players after the opponent is already tackled," he said Wednesday at a Bloomberg Law Leadership Forum event in New York. "I played football about 40 years ago, so I used that metaphor."
But, he joked, after consulting Merriam-Webster, he learned that "piling on" is never a good thing.
"The dictionary defines 'piling on' as joining other people in criticizing someone, usually in an unfair way,” Rosenstein said. "I also have experience with that. So I am definitely against piling on, no matter what definition you use."
The new policy, he added on Wednesday, discouraged "piling on" by instructing all relevant parties in the Justice Department and other agencies to coordinate on penalties.
Rosenstein, who supervises the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, has faced increasing demands to release classified documents and threats of impeachment from congressional Republicans and has even told confidants he's prepared to be fired.
And in recent days, Trump, who has publicly criticized Rosenstein, has repeatedly refused to say he has confidence in his deputy attorney general.
On Tuesday, Trump barked, "Next question, please," to a reporter after he was asked if he had confidence in Rosenstein. And on Wednesday morning, Trump, despite talking at length about other topics, wouldn’t answer repeated questions about his confidence in his deputy attorney general.
There was no animosity on display later in the day, however, when Rosenstein accompanied Trump to a roundtable about gang activity and immigration in Long Island, N.Y.
Rosenstein spoke at the event for several moments about MS-13 and how the Justice Department had tried to dismantle the gang. When Rosenstein finished talking, Trump praised him.
"I think that’s great Rod, and I think that’s happening,” Trump said. “Thank you, Rod, very much, very nice."