Speaking publicly for the first time since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did not mince words.
In a prepared speech delivered to the Public Servants Dinner of the Armenian Bar Association, Rosenstein criticized the Obama administration for failing to act on what he says should have been a “real-time reaction to Russian hacking.”
“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,” he said.
But he saved his harshest criticism for the press, which he accused of blatantly sensationalizing the facts surrounding his involvement in the two-year inquiry. “Some of the nonsense that passes for breaking news today would not be worth the paper it was printed on, if anybody bothered to print it,” he said. “One silly question that I get from reporters is, ‘Is it true that you got angry and emotional a few times over the past few years?’ Heck yes! Didn’t you?”
Rosenstein answered critics who say that he was complicit in what many believe was Attorney General William Barr’s filtering of the report. “I did pledge to do it right and take it to the appropriate conclusion,” he told those gathered. “I did not promise to report all results to the public, because grand jury investigations are ex parteproceedings. It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.”
Then he went further, addressing widespread criticism that he stood emotionless as Barr delivered remarks at a press conference the morning the redacted report was released. “Can you imagine if I did anything other than stand there at the press conference?” he asked. “Imagine the reaction and the commentary if I had smiled or grimaced. But you cannot avoid criticism. The only way you can avoid criticism in public service is if you stay home.”
He only mentioned Trump once in the talk, praising the president’s approach to the law. “The rule of law is our most important principle,” Rosenstein said. “As President Trump pointed out, ‘We govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather [than] … the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will.’”
Rosenstein warned that the Russian meddling outlined in the Mueller report was just the beginning.
“The bottom line is, there was overwhelming evidence that Russian operatives hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens,” he said, according to the official transcript of the speech. “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.”
Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here