The 22-month long investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election, which concluded on March 22, 2019, began back on May 17, 2017, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. This was a reaction to President Trump’s firing of then FBI director James Comey on May 9, which was done on the basis of a recommendation written by Rosenstein. After former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from anything related to the Trump campaign’s alleged connections with Russia, the Deputy Attorney General took authority over all decision-making related to the investigation.
With the Mueller report’s public release on April 18, 2018, Rosenstein made his first public comments, delivered during a speech at the Armenian Bar Association’s public servants dinner in New York on April 25.
Rosenstein stated that our “our nation is safer, elections are more secure, and citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence schemes” and pointed out that “there was overwhelming evidence that Russian operatives hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens, 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.”
Furthermore, Rosenstein criticized the Obama administration for its overall decision “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.”
Rosenstein also criticized decisions made at the FBI by its former director, saying, “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 then went on to reflect on his personal role in the matter, reminiscing about his confirmation hearing in March 2017 when “a Republican senator asked me to make a commitment. He said ‘You’re going to be in charge of this [Russia] investigation. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you’ll do it right, that you’ll take it to its conclusion and you’ll report [your results] to the American people’… 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.”
However, Rosenstein has at times had a contested relationship with both the President and some Republicans in Congress, who have criticized him for repeatedly withholding key documents sought by the House Intelligence Committee then chaired by Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). He defended all his actions and decisions, arguing, “as acting Attorney General, it was my responsibility to make sure that the Department of Justice would do what the American people pay us to do: conduct an independent investigation; complete it expeditiously; hold perpetrators accountable if warranted, and work with partner agencies to counter foreign agents and deter crimes.”
He is expected to step down within two months and made fun of his appearance during the press conference held by Attorney General Bill Barr prior to the release of the report saying, “Last week, the big topic of discussion was, ‘What were you thinking when you stood behind Bill Barr at that press conference, with a deadpan expression?’ The answer is: I was thinking, ‘My job is to stand here with a deadpan expression.’”