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Rosenstein speaks out to defend Russia probe, rip Obama administration

The deputy attorney general, who oversaw the special counsel investigation, said he didn't promise to release the full Mueller report.
Image: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a news conference
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington.Patrick Semansky / AP file

Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who supervised special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and President Donald Trump, on Thursday defended his handling of the probe, trashed the media for the way it was covered and slammed the Obama administration for not revealing "the full story" about Russia's efforts.

"Some critical decisions about that 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 Russia’s broader strategy to undermine America,” Rosenstein told the Armenian Bar Association’s Public Servants Dinner in New York.

The speech marked the first time Rosenstein has spoken publicly since Attorney General William Barr, earlier this month, released a redacted copy of Mueller's report detailing his findings. While finding no criminal conspiracy, the report showed that Trump associates met with Russians after the intelligence community said in October 2016 that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, and even after the Obama administration announced a set of post-election sanctions to punish Russia for that behavior. Mueller's report also details 10 episodes of potential obstruction by Trump, but did not conclude whether the president committed a crime. The report "also does not exonerate him," Mueller wrote. Barr declared, in a letter to Congress prior to the redacted report's release, that Trump did not obstruct justice.

Rosenstein on Thursday also criticized former FBI Director James Comey for an array of decisions he’d made about the agency’s probe into Russian interference.

“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,” Rosenstein said.

Mueller's report lays out evidence that appears to support Comey's version of the events leading up to his firing, which the White House initially pinned on a memo drafted by Rosenstein at Trump's request. Rosenstein's memo attributed the rationale for dismissing the FBI chief to Comey's handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state.

According to Mueller's report, however, "substantial evidence indicates that the catalyst for the president’s decision to fire Comey was Comey’s unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the president’s repeated requests that Comey make such an announcement."

Later in the speech, Rosenstein took a swipe at the media for how it covered the investigation, hitting “mercenary critics” who “get paid to express passionate opinions about any topic, often with little or no information” and who “launch ad hominem attacks unrestricted by truth or morality.”

“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,” he said. “It quickly fades away. The principles are what abide.”

Above all, Rosenstein defended how the investigation was handled, saying he had promised to “do it right.”

“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,” Rosenstein said.