Rod Rosenstein defends Russia investigation handling, hits back at James Comey

Just two days after his official departure from the Department of Justice, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will mount an extensive defense of the tumultuous early days of his tenure and his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel.

Rosenstein, according to a set of prepared remarks released before the Greater Baltimore Committee annual meeting, will take aim at critics, cable news pundits and former FBI Director James Comey — while mostly sparing President Donald Trump from any direct criticism.

“People spend a lot of time debating whose side I was on, based on who seemed to benefit most from any individual decision,” Rosenstein said in the prepared remarks. “That is because partisans evaluate things in terms of the immediate political impact and cable TV pundits fill a lot of time by pretending there is always serious breaking news.”

PHOTO: Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein attends a conference in Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 7, 2019.Mike Blake/Reuters, FILE

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein attends a conference in Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 7, 2019.

The remarks follow Rosenstein’s recent resignation from the department and a weekend of Trump continuing to take aim at Mueller’s investigation in a series of tweets and retweets that described the special counsel probe as a “hoax” and “an illegal coup.”

But Rosenstein in his speech will say that he believes the investigation was “justified,” while noting the ongoing Inspector General’s investigation into the counterintelligence decisions that were taken in the early stages.

“If the Inspector General finds significant new facts, I would reconsider my opinion,” Rosenstein’s remarks say. “But I always need to base my opinions on credible evidence.”

Rosenstein also will hit back at a recent New York Times op-ed by Comey, who wrote that Rosenstein and Attorney General Bill Barr have compromised themselves by not speaking out more forcefully against Trump’s attacks on the DOJ.

“Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from,” Comey wrote. “It takes character like [former Secretary of Defense James Mattis’] to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

While Rosenstein in his speech notes he once had a deep professional respect for Comey, he expresses dismay at former FBI director’s recent political commentary.

“Now the former Director is a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul,” according to his prepared remarks. “That is disappointing. Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony.”

In Baltimore Monday night, Rosenstein will also make a notable split with Trump, saying he would have handled Comey’s ouster differently.

“If I had been the decision maker, the removal would have been handled very differently, with far more respect and far less drama,” Rosenstein’s remarks say. “So I do not blame the former Director for being angry.”

Rosenstein also gives some insight into his own mindset in determining whether Comey’s firing could amount to a potential act of obstruction of justice.

“I would never have allowed anyone to interfere with the investigation,” Rosenstein says in the remarks.

In summary of his oversight of Mueller’s investigation, Rosenstein tasked his critics with coming up with alternatives for the more controversial decisions he made and insists that his own political opinions had no effect on the outcome of the investigation.

“My soul and character are pretty much the same today as they were two years ago,” Rosenstein will say. “I took a few hits and made some enemies during my time in the arena, but I held my ground and made a lot of friends. And thanks to them, I think I made the right calls on the things that mattered.”