Mueller ‘not an un­guided mis­sile’

Deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral shrugs off crit­i­cism

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin John­son

WASH­ING­TON – De­spite crit­i­cism from the White House on the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s al­leged elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein of­fered un­qual­i­fied sup­port for spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller on Mon­day.

“The spe­cial coun­sel is not an un­guided mis­sile,” Rosen­stein said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with USA TO­DAY. “I don’t be­lieve there is any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion at this point for ter­mi­nat­ing the spe­cial coun­sel.”

The deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, who is tasked with over­see­ing the spe­cial coun­sel, ap­pointed Mueller last May to run the wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­cused him­self be­cause of his con­tacts with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak.

Rosen­stein es­ti­mated that less than 5% of his work­week is re­lated to brief­ings or other mat­ters in­volv­ing Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

He dis­missed the near-con­stant crit­i­cism aimed at the Jus­tice De­part­ment from the White House and the con­ser­va­tive Tea Party Pa­tri­ots group. An ad cam­paign by the group de­scribed Rosen­stein as “a weak ca­reerist” and sug­gested he re­sign.

“I be­lieve much of the crit­i­cism will fall by the way­side when peo­ple re­flect on this era and the De­part­ment of Jus­tice,” Rosen­stein said. “I’m very con­fi­dent that when the his­tory of this era is writ­ten, it will re­flect that the de­part­ment was op­er­ated with in­tegrity.”

Rosen­stein said he felt se­cure but was prag­matic about his job.

“I feel very con­fi­dent in my abil­ity to do the job,” he said. “In any po­lit­i­cal job, you rec­og­nize that your time is go­ing to be lim­ited. My goal is to get as much done for as long as I’m here in the job.

“And when my time is up, when­ever that may be, I’m con­fi­dent that I’m go­ing to be able to look back proudly on the work our de­part­ment has done while I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to be here.”

Rosen­stein spoke about the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s cam­paign aimed at re­duc­ing crime and push­ing for harsher

“I’m con­fi­dent that I’m go­ing to be able to look back proudly on the work our de­part­ment has done.”

Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein

pun­ish­ments in cases in­volv­ing vi­o­lent crime. He said the de­part­ment re­sponded to the pri­or­i­ties laid out by the pres­i­dent, “restor­ing” the au­thor­ity of fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors and other law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to bring homi­cides down across the coun­try af­ter two years of in­creases.

Rosen­stein also re­ferred to the de­part­ment’s ef­fort against the scourge of opi­oid ad­dic­tion, with Jus­tice pledg­ing to pur­sue man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“Most of the work goes un­her­alded and un-crit­i­cized,” he said, adding that his work is fo­cused in “im­ple­ment­ing the pri­or­i­ties of the pres­i­dent and the at­tor­ney gen­eral.”

The deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral first emerged as a cen­tral fig­ure in the tu­mul­tuous first months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion when the White House dis­closed that Rosen­stein and Ses­sions had rec­om­mended the May dis­missal of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey.

Later that month, Rosen­stein an­nounced the ap­point­ment of Mueller to over­see the con­tin­u­ing in­quiry into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, ig­nit­ing Trump’s bit­ter cam­paign against his own Jus­tice De­part­ment.

The crit­i­cism only seems to escalate with the an­nounce­ment of ev­ery new in­dict­ment in an in­quiry that has snared, among oth­ers, Trump’s for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, for­mer cam­paign and deputy cam­paign chief.

The de­ci­sion to ap­point Mueller fell to Rosen­stein af­ter Ses­sions’ re­cusal in March. Two months later, Rosen­stein called the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel “nec­es­sary in or­der for the Amer­i­can peo­ple to have full con­fi­dence in the out­come.”

“Our na­tion is grounded on the rule of law and the pub­lic must be as­sured that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials ad­min­is­ter the law fairly,” Rosen­stein said in May. “Spe­cial Coun­sel Mueller will have all ap­pro­pri­ate re­sources to con­duct a thor­ough and com­plete in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and I am con­fi­dent that he will fol­low the facts, ap­ply the law and reach a just re­sult.”

Al­though Trump still refers to the in­quiry as a “witch hunt” and has lev­eled bit­ter crit­i­cism against the lead­er­ship of Rosen­stein and Ses­sions at Jus­tice, the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral has not wa­vered from his sup­port of Mueller.

“I can as­sure you that the spe­cial coun­sel is con­duct­ing him­self con­sis­tently with our un­der­stand­ing of the scope of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Rosen­stein told a House panel in De­cem­ber, be­fore of­fer­ing a stir­ring de­fense of the spe­cial coun­sel’s cred­i­bil­ity.

“I think it would be very dif­fi­cult to find any­body bet­ter qual­i­fied for this job ... I be­lieve that, based upon his rep­u­ta­tion, his ser­vice, his pa­tri­o­tism, his ex­pe­ri­ence with the de­part­ment and the FBI, he was an ideal choice for this task.”

Rosen­stein ac­knowl­edged Mon­day that the work is some­times dif­fi­cult in the face of con­stant scru­tiny.

He also con­ceded that the pub­lic na­ture of his job, tra­di­tion­ally car­ried out in near-anonymity, was un­ex­pected.

“I an­tic­i­pated that this would be a lower-pro­file job,” he said.

Still, Rosen­stein said he wouldn’t trade places with any of his pre­de­ces­sors, in­clud­ing those who served dur­ing Water­gate and more re­cently dur­ing the 9/11 at­tacks in 2001.

“It’s in­evitable that the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral will get caught up in mat­ters that are the sub­ject of pub­lic con­tro­versy.”

“We need to do what we be­lieve is right based on the facts and the law,” he said. “To the ex­tent we get any crit­i­cism from any side, we need to set that aside. That can’t in­flu­ence us in our de­ci­sion mak­ing.”

Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein JAR­RAD HEN­DER­SON/USA TO­DAY

Rosen­stein sees no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ter­mi­nat­ing Robert Mueller. AN­DREW HARNIK AP

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