• Show Notes
  • Transcript

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein joins Katie Barlow and Joe Lockhart for a wide-ranging discussion that includes his long DOJ career and why he hasn’t written a book since leaving public service, whether police departments suffer from systemic racism, reports that he suggested wearing a wire to record President Trump, and of course, the critical decisions points and controversies around Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Recorded July 29, 2020

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Katie Barlow: Our guest today served as the thirty seventh deputy attorney general of the United States from April 2017 until May 12 19, prior to his appointment, he served as the United States attorney for the District of Maryland. And at the time of his confirmation as deputy attorney general on April twenty fifth, twenty seventeen, he was the nation’s longest serving US attorney. The Senate approved his nomination by a vote of ninety four to six prior to his service as deputy attorney general. He spent more than twenty five years as a prosecutor for the US Department of Justice. Rod Rosenstein, welcome to Words Matter.

 

Rod Rosenstein: Thank you, Katie, and Joe I’m glad to be with you.

 

Katie Barlow: And in the interest of full disclosure, our listeners should know that I’ve known Rod personally and my partner has worked with Rod and for Rod for the past several years. So I just want to get that out of the way.

 

Joe Lockhart: It strikes me that you’re one of the few people over the last couple of years who hasn’t done a media tour or written a book. So I think our our listeners would like to know something about how you got to where you are today.

 

Joe Lockhart: So can you talk a little bit about what brought you into the DOJ as a prosecutor and then, eventually as deputy attorney general?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Sure, I’ll be happy to, Joe. And, you know, it’s interesting to make the point about the book in the media tour, because I can tell you the offers that people receive to write books are quite lucrative. But I decided that wasn’t the path that I wanted to take. And that’s partly a function of my history in the department and in law enforcement. I joined the Department of Justice in 1990 following a clerkship for a federal judge. I started out as a trial attorney in the public corruption section of the Justice Department. And as a result of that job and other jobs that I subsequently took, including serving as associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation and then as a United States attorney, one of the most important things I learned was about the confidentiality of what we do in law enforcement.

 

Rod Rosenstein: That is that when you have an allegation of criminal activity and you determine that it warrants investigation, you have a responsibility to investigate it, but you also have a commensurate responsibility not to talk about it. And so in the Department of Justice, what we learn and I learned this in both Republican and Democrat administrations, is that when we have allegations to make, we make them in court, we prove our case. We have evidence and witnesses before jury, and we try to keep our personal opinions out of it. So that’s one of the reasons that I’ve, for the most part, refrained from making any public comments since I left the department.

 

Joe Lockhart: I Agree with you there, I think I’m one of the few White House press secretary said who’s not written a book, because I think it makes it harder for future press secretaries, for the president to trust them and confide in them. So, I mean, I admire that.

 

Joe Lockhart: Speaking of my White House, the Clinton White House, I know you were working as an associate independent counsel under Ken Starr.

 

Joe Lockhart: You were gone before the Lewinsky S. But you were there for much of the Whitewater. Tell me what you learned during that process and how did that inform how you approached the duties you had as deputy attorney general when the president was being investigated?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, there are number of lessons that I learned, Joe, that bore on the way I conducted myself in office, and one of them, which is something that I know you appreciate well, is the disconnect between what’s being spun in the media about any particular investigation and what’s actually happening behind the scenes in the investigation.

 

Rod Rosenstein: Often they’re really just two different worlds because not not necessarily that reporters are purposefully trying to misrepresent things, but they’re dependent upon their sources and people who talk to reporters. Sometimes they’re second or third hand. Sometimes they’re first hand, but they always have an agenda and they tend to spin the information in a way that favors their personal agenda. And so the stories that you read in the media about investigations, about what’s being done, who’s being targeted, who’s likely to be indicted, often bear little relation to what’s actually going on behind the scenes. And so that’s one of the lessons I learned. Another one is that it’s critically important for prosecutors to remain silent during their investigations. And I think Bob Mueller is a superb exemplar of that. He and his staff, although there are often allegations of leaking in the media, I don’t think there was any credible evidence that any leak came out of Bob Mueller, his team. And I think it’s very important to do that. It tremendously frustrates the media because reporters obviously are dependent upon leakers to write their stories. But in the end, although sometimes we have to take our slings and arrows, I think it’s the right way to do the job.

 

Joe Lockhart: Yeah, they were many days when I wished that the independent counsel or the special counsel took the same approach as Mueller because, we had so many leaks and it had so much of an impact on the investigation that it was very hard to function during that time. And I appreciate what you’re saying there.

 

Rod Rosenstein: It also has the effect of raising expectations, which I think is unfortunate. But, you know, the alternative of providing a running  commentary about where the investigation stands and where it’s likely to go, I think is just intolerable because that would inject the prosecutor into that ongoing public debate. And so in Whitewater, you actually had a similar experience to what we faced in the Russian investigation, which is that there were congressional investigations ongoing.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And Congress, of course, and congressional staffers are not subject to the same confidentiality rules as prosecutors and agents. And so there’s a constant flow of information coming from them as well. And the upshot is that every day you have a new story and it’s critical for the folks who are conducting the investigation not to be distracted by those stories and to keep their focus on what it is they’re supposed to be investigating.

 

Katie Barlow: So I want to delve a little bit more into the details of your history in nineteen ninety seven, when you joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore, Maryland, first as an AUSA, an assistant U.S. attorney, then in 2005, President George W. Bush nominated you and you were confirmed by the Senate as the US attorney for the District of Maryland. But then in 2009, something unusual happened, or at least unusual by modern standards. You were the only US attorney President Obama retained when he took office. No, he initially retained several. But you stayed for the long haul. Explain what usually happens with the U.S. attorneys after a change in presidential administration and why you were kept on.

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, it varies. There are some presidents who replace or fire all the U.S. attorneys immediately. It typically takes some time to get replacement selected and confirmed by the Senate. Bill Clinton, when he came into office in 1993, fired almost all of the U.S. attorneys immediately or within a month or two of taking office. The Bush and Obama administrations retained some U.S. attorneys for at least a limited period of time. And then, of course, President Trump went back to the Clinton model of firing almost all the U.S. attorneys immediately so that the practice actually does vary. Nobody was more surprised than I about my remaining as U.S. attorney in the Obama administration. And part of that part of the reason for that is that I had been nominated to serve as a judge on the Fourth Circuit in 2007, and my nomination was blocked by the Democratic senators from the state of Maryland, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin.

 

Rod Rosenstein: So I did not anticipate that I would remain as U.S. attorney in the Obama administration. But I was honored and privileged to do the job because the principles the Department of Justice, which I learned throughout my career in both career and noncareer positions, persist through administrations. Obviously, there are policy changes, but the principles of the department and the rules that we follow are consistent from administration to administration. So it was a surprise to me that they did not replace me in 2009.

 

Rod Rosenstein: It was a surprise to me that they didn’t replace me in 2013. But it was a wonderful experience for me to serve through essentially at least parts of three administrations.

 

Katie Barlow: And during your time, you mentioned working in the public corruption unit, but also as U.S. attorney, you prosecuted several high-profile cases of public corruption, particularly police corruption, when you were a U.S. attorney and had sweeping indictments of corrupt law enforcement officers at various levels. But you also worked closely with local law enforcement to dramatically reduce violent crime in the area, including particularly homicide. So, with all of that background and your long history with law enforcement kind of on both sides of the coin, I want to ask you your thoughts on whether there is a problem of systemic racism in police departments across the country, or at least the ones that you investigated.

 

Rod Rosenstein: There are a lot of issues in the Baltimore Police Department, systemic racism did not appear to be one of them. And I think, Katie, you know, obviously my experience demonstrates that you can prosecute corrupt police officers, you can help to correct problems in policing.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to condemn police officers. In my experience, having spent 30 years in the Department of Justice and worked with federal, state and local law enforcement officers all over the country, is that 99 percent of police officers are honest. They are people of great integrity. They’re the kind of folks you’d want to have your neighbors and friends like in any line of work. You know, there are outliers. There are folks who abuse their powers and people who abuse citizens. And we need to hold those folks accountable. And that’s one of the things we did in Baltimore and in Baltimore is a department that had had some significant management problems. And as a result of that, there were cultural issues within the department that resulted in a number of large-scale conspiracies which you averted to. And so we routed those out. But I was always careful when we brought those cases not to condemn the entire police department because there are a lot of good cops out there who are demoralized when they see that kind of publicity and who are just as offended as you and I are when they see misconduct by their colleagues.

 

Joe Lockhart: So, Rod, let’s now get into the Trump administration. Trump was elected in 2016, Jeff Sessions asked you to join the administration. What was your connection with Senator Sessions, AG Sessions. And what connection did you have with Donald Trump?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, I had no personal connection with either one of them. In fact, I spoke to Jeff Sessions for the first time and he called and invited me to come down and talk to him in his Senate office in late November of 2016. And initially, I didn’t even realize I was being interviewed for a job.

 

Rod Rosenstein: He told me that he was interested in my thoughts about the policies of the department and about how we could best achieve his priorities, which included reducing drug abuse and fighting violent crime.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And so I talked with him a fair amount about those issues. And that was my first interaction with the Attorney General. Obviously, we had a lot of friends in common, but I had no prior connection with him. And by virtue of my experience in the department, I had not been involved in politics. I’ve been a registered Republican, but my whole life. But I had not been active in politics, so I had not come across the attorney general or the president in any of those capacities. In fact, the first time I met the president was shortly before he was inaugurated. He came to Baltimore to a football game, and I shook his hand before the game. That was the first time I’d ever met him.

 

Joe Lockhart: And given how political Washington is – did you have any hesitation about jumping in to Main DOJ in a position that, as much as you tried to keep politics out of it, you could never completely do that?

 

Rod Rosenstein: I had no hesitation about it, Joe. And that’s an interesting issue. I know there are people who speculate about the risks of getting involved in political office and the folks who say they wouldn’t want to work in government in this administration or that administration. But my view is there’s a lot of good work to be done in any administration.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And obviously, whether it’s your party’s president or the other party’s president, they’re going to be policies with which you disagree. Nobody’s 100 percent in agreement with anybody’s particular agenda. But within the department, we were pursuing what Jeff Sessions described as a mandate to enforce the rule of law, to reduce violent crime and drug abuse, but to try to enhance immigration enforcement, to support law enforcement, all things that I believe were righteous goals. And I was honored to be part of it.

 

Katie Barlow: So, before you were sworn in as deputy attorney general or as Dag, your soon to be boss, AG Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. I think that was on March 2nd 2017. And your recent Senate testimony, you praised that recusal, said it was the right thing to do. So, if you could explain to our listeners why the AG recused himself, why that was the right thing and what the Justice Department guidelines are on recusal and what you thought that would mean for you coming into DOJ?

 

Rod Rosenstein: And Kate, I was not involved in that decision, I had been nominated, but I had not been confirmed. So, I was up in Baltimore doing my job and I learned about the recusal like everybody else did on television. But my understanding is the Attorney General consulted with the ethics experts in the department and as a result of his involvement in the political campaign, determined that it was appropriate for him to recuse.

 

Rod Rosenstein: It was strictly based upon the rules. And Jeff Sessions is a rule follower. That’s one of the reasons I thought he would do a superb job as Attorney General because he obviously has strong political views. He wanted to make significant policy changes, but he respects the rule of law. And when he evaluated those rules and realized that they called for his recusal, he felt it was appropriate to recuse. And so, as I said, I wasn’t involved. And in fact, at the time, I was preparing for my confirmation hearing and I had a hearing along with Rachel Brand, who was the associate attorney general, our number three official in the department. And as we were preparing for the hearing, we actually anticipated that Rachel would get a lot of the tough questions during the confirmation hearing. But after the Russia recusal, everybody turn their attention to me. So that had a big impact on the nature of the confirmation process.

 

Katie Barlow: So aside then from how he actually decided to do it, what are the rules that kind of require it so that people understand what goes into that thought process and how that decision gets made?

 

Rod Rosenstein: They’re actually not very easy to explain, which is why the department has experts to help you work your way through them. Matt Whitaker faced similar issues when he became acting attorney general. It took a couple of weeks to work through and determine whether or not there was a basis for him to recuse. But the presumption when you’re in these high-level positions in the department is that you’re not recused. You have a responsibility to do the job unless the rules call for you not to do the job. And so you go through all the rules. There are a variety of different rules. There are bar rules, there are federal regulations, and then there are department regulations and policies. And so with regard to the attorney general, my understanding is that the rules that apply there was that he had been involved in the political campaign and therefore could not be involved in an investigation of the campaign. So that is my understanding about the rule that resulted in his recusal.

 

Joe Lockhart: So you are still working on being confirmed and you’re dropped into the middle of this. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things that actually happened.

 

Joe Lockhart: It’s been reported that on May 8th, 2017, you and the attorney general were at the White House for lunch with White House counsel, Don McGahn.

 

Joe Lockhart: It was then that again reported that you learned that the president was planning to fire FBI Director James Comey first. Is that accurate?

 

Rod Rosenstein: No, I don’t have a calendar in front of me, Joe, but I believe it was a Monday and I think the 8th is probably right.

 

Joe Lockhart: What was your reaction to learning that.

 

Rod Rosenstein: My reaction to learning that was that the president has the authority to decide who he’s going to keep or remove from these high-level positions, and that’s a matter entirely in the discretion of the president.

 

Joe Lockhart: And apparently you met later that day with the president, did you discuss in any detail why the president wanted to fire Comey?

 

Rod Rosenstein: The president has articulated a number of reasons why he was concerned about Mr. Comey, why he wanted to replace them as FBI director, I as you know, I wrote a memo subsequently. I explained what I felt that Jim Comey had done wrong with regard to the Hillary Clinton investigation. The president’s reasons weren’t necessarily the same as mine, but he obviously had his own reasons and his reasons are unreviewable. Now, the president has discretion to appoint attorneys general and secretaries and anybody that he likes subject to Senate confirmation. And he has the ability to remove them for whatever reason he deems appropriate.

 

Joe Lockhart: So that memo became quite significant in all of the discussion around the firing of told me in whether the president obstructed justice. Can you talk a little bit about why you wrote it?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, I think it’s already been explained publicly that I wrote it because the president asked me to write it and what’s reflected in there, Joe, I would have written that memo for any president who asked me to do it in the same memo for Hillary Clinton. It’s not a partisan memo. It’s simply an explanation of how Jim Comey, his conduct during that Hillary Clinton investigation was inconsistent with the principles the department. And it’s ironic, you know, that people now view that obviously through a political lens. But I can tell you, in the fall of 2016, my colleagues, the Obama U.S. attorneys, I was a holdover, but my colleagues had been appointed by President Obama. They recognized those same issues that I recognized. A number of significant former officials of the Department of Justice, including former attorneys general and deputy attorneys general, expressed their views, some of them in an op ed. And it was quite clear that the Director Comey decisions were inconsistent with department policy. I articulated it in a memo, which I think was two or three pages. About a year, year and a half later, the inspector general produced a report that was several hundred pages and was consistent with what I had articulated, because it was actually quite clear that the decisions that Director Comey made and I think he acknowledged himself that they were inconsistent with department policy, but he felt that he was justified in dispensing with those rules.

 

Joe Lockhart: Given, what you wrote. Do you think Comey should have been fired based on the memo? Not the politics and not everything that came afterwards. But given the mistakes he made, do you think it was right that he was fired?

 

Rod Rosenstein: You know, Joe, I think having spent a career in the Department of Justice, one of the things that I learned is that there are the majority positions in the Department of career positions. In a career position, you have due process rights. You have a lot of procedural protections. And the right reasons have to be articulated for any kind of disciplinary action, including firing for political appointees. There’s no standard for hiring and there’s no standard for removal. So ultimately, it’s a decision of the president. Now, many people expected that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would replace Jim Comey after the election.

 

Rod Rosenstein: The president announced in late January that he had decided to keep Jim Comey, and that was fine with me. That’s the president’s decision. The president decided to remove him. That was fine with me, too. But the bottom line is that the director had violated those rules and that’s a problem. I think it creates a problem that needs to be dealt with because we need to make sure it’s not going to happen again. And I’m quite confident that Chris Wray, as director of the FBI, is going to return to the traditional rules governing the FBI. And so you will not see him holding similar press conferences or writing letters on the eve of the election.

 

Katie Barlow: There is a lot of commentary at the time back and forth about Jim Comey and how he handled things. But for those who haven’t read the letter, can you explain how James Comey broke with the FBI and the Justice Department’s chain of command and partisan traditions in that investigation?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, you’ve actually identified two separate issues. The first is the chain of command. That is the procedure for making important decisions in the department. And the second are the traditions or underlying substantive policies with regard to the chain of command. You know, it’s very important that people understand that the FBI reports to the Department of Justice.

 

Rod Rosenstein: It’s sort of like the military in the sense that it exercises a lot of authority, but it’s subject to supervision by federal prosecutors and by the attorney general. So, the first principle is that the FBI director needs to respect the chain of command. The FBI director reports the deputy attorney general and through the deputy to the attorney general in the Obama administration, that was Sally Yates and Loretta Lynch. And Director Comey has explained that he made the decision not to tell the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, what he was going to say when he held that press conference announcing his opinion about the Hillary Clinton investigation. That’s a procedural violation. That’s a lack of respect for the chain of command. Subsequently, when the director decided to send a letter to Congress on the eve of the election announcing that he was reopening the Hillary Clinton investigation, that he did not follow instructions from the Department of Justice, I believe he talked to a lower level official in the deputy attorney general’s office and went forward anyway. In those instances, if the FBI is going to take such a dramatic step inconsistent with department precedent, with a potential impact on the election, the FBI director has a responsibility to fully brief the leadership of the department and make sure he or she has their approval, because that’s his responsibility. He is the leader of the FBI, but he’s still a subordinate official in the Department of Justice. So that’s the procedural violation substantively with regard to the press conference. Number one, the FBI director should not be expressing his personal opinion about an investigation because the FBI’s role in the federal system is to make recommendations to the Department of Justice and then prosecutors make the decision whether or not to bring a case.

 

Rod Rosenstein: So, when Director Comey went to the microphone and announced that no reasonable prosecutor would charge the case, he was directly undermining the authority of the Department of Justice, which had not yet made its decision and had a right to make that decision independently. In addition to that, he proceeded to lay out the evidence and to criticize Secretary Clinton. And that’s also a violation of a very important principle. As I mentioned earlier, the department conducts investigations and either we charge or we do not charge. There’s no middle ground where we closed the case, but chastised the target of the investigation, though. If there were going to be a variance from that tradition, if Director Comey felt it was important in this instance to break with that rule, he should have gotten approval from the attorney general. But he didn’t do that. And similarly, with regard to the letter he wrote on the eve of the election, announcing the reopening, the investigation of Hillary Clinton, that letter he wrote had a significant potential impact on the election. And nobody can measure what, if any, impact it actually had. But it’s a very foundational rule that the Department of Justice should be cautious not to do things the. Going to be perceived as interfering with the election, and the truth is that there was no need to write that letter and he should not have done it. And again, if he were going to do it, he should have gotten the personal approval of the attorney general.

 

Katie Barlow: Your memo specifically did not recommend that Comey be fired, and I want to quote briefly from it, it says, quote, The FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.

 

Katie Barlow: Do you believe the president made his decision to fire Comey for the reasons laid out in your memo?

 

Rod Rosenstein: You know Katie, I had only a few hours to write that memo, but I think it fairly articulates my views. As I said, I understood the president was removing Director Comey. It wasn’t my decision to do so, but I was articulating what I believe the director done wrong. And what’s unspoken in the letter.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But what you ought to know is that I actually view Jim Comey as a role model in the Bush administration, as many of our U.S. attorneys did. He’s been a federal prosecutor. A career prosecutor was very effective in fighting violent crime. He served as U.S. attorney in southern New York, where they had a great track record on white collar crime and then as deputy attorney general for a couple of years before becoming FBI director. And everybody makes mistakes. I think his mistakes were significant, but everybody makes mistakes. But one of the things that particularly troubled me and it’s reflected in there, is that Director Comey was unapologetic about his mistakes.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And you may recall there was a congressional hearing a week or two before the director was fired in which he basically doubled down and in effect, said that he would have done it again if you had the chance. And I thought that was deeply wrong. And I was very disappointed that Director Comey was unwilling to acknowledge that the decision he made was a bad decision. And as far as the question you’re asking me, the president made the decision to remove Director Comey and I can’t speak for the president as to what was in his mind. I know he’s articulated a number of reasons, but ultimately, it’s his decision and it’s not reviewable.

 

Katie Barlow: Were you surprised that the White House publicly released your memo that that very same day and used it as their justification for Comey firing.

 

Rod Rosenstein: Everything that you write in government, you have to anticipate is going to be released at some point. And so I certainly didn’t anticipate the memo would remain secret. I was surprised when the some of the White House press folks released the memo and led the media to believe that I had initiated this effort to remove the director, which just isn’t how it happened. But as far as the substance of the memo, I wrote it with the understanding that it might become public at some point. And I stand behind it. And as I said, I think most former officials in the department, without regard to politics, agree with the principles that articulated in the memo and would not want to see a future FBI director make those decisions.

 

Joe Lockhart: So, Rod, as a former White House press secretary, I have insight into how they do things and why they do things and Sean Spicer was out that day and he said, quote, It was all Rosenstein No one from the White House. It was a DOJ decision. We know from your answer and from your testimony that it was the president’s decision. So how did you feel being put in the position by senior members of the White House. Suggesting it was. Saying outright that you had made the decision that the president hadn’t made the decision when you knew just the opposite was true?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, I think the problem, Joe, as you probably appreciate, is that the deputy attorney general, you have a responsibility from time to time testifying before Congress. And there are a lot of folks in the White House who talk to the media a lot but never testify. And so I anticipated that I would be under oath at some point and have to explain my role in the firing of Director Comey. And as a result, I wasn’t going I wasn’t able to endorse any untrue version of events I wouldn’t have done in any way. But my view is that it’s wrong for the Department of Justice to do that. So, I was disappointed about that. You know, my view is that the president has the right to make any decision he likes and then they ought to be prepared to stand behind it.

 

Rod Rosenstein: I had experienced myself when I was U.S. attorney in the Bush administration of seeing a similar dynamic play out with regard to the firings of about six U.S. attorneys. You may recall that cost both the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and the deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty, their jobs, that they had a perfectly lawful right to replace U.S. attorneys.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But what happened was that the deputy attorney general went up to the Hill and provided reasons it ultimately turned out not to be true for why the removals had been done. And so, the lesson I learned from that, which I think is only emphasized by the Comey appearance, is that you can remove anybody you like, but you can’t be untruthful about the reasons why you’re doing it.

 

Joe Lockhart: I mean, shortly after that, the president went on television with Lester Holt and told the truth and said it was because of Russia. I mean, did you feel betrayed by the president in the White House?

 

Rod Rosenstein: I don’t want to debate what was the truth. I do recall the president saying that and obviously that created a lot of concern. Betrayal is not the relevant issue. It obviously created a lot of concern because it fueled the perception that the removal of the FBI director was in retaliation in some way for the Russian investigation and the perception that it was part of an effort to end the Russia investigation, which was not my view. You know, Joe, I had nobody told me that the goal was to end the Russia investigation. Nobody ordered me to end the Russian investigation. And so that was not my understanding of why Director Comey was being removed.

 

Joe Lockhart: I understand that, Rod, but as you’ve said, I think multiple times here, it’s the president’s decision and he has the right. And when the president comes out and says, I’ve decided this and this is the reason I’ve decided for you, you have every reason to believe that. And it just puts you in a terribly awkward position. And I know at the time, based on who you are, you never going to say anything. So here we are now. I’m going to give you a chance to say something. Is there anything more you’d want to say on that?

 

Rod Rosenstein: I don’t think so, Joe. I mean, you know, I think that the Mueller report obviously is the best public record about what happened around that period of time.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And I really don’t have anything to add to it. As I said, the firing of Jim Comey, in my view, is the prerogative of the president. My memo accurately reflects what I believed Jim Comey had done wrong. It’s corroborated by the report of the inspector general. And so that’s the record. It is what it is.

 

Joe Lockhart: Because of the memo and because of the subsequent interviews the president gave and the circumstances of the firing of Jim Comey became an important part of the obstruction case. Did you consider recusing yourself? And if you didn’t, why didn’t you?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, I certainly considered it in the sense that I talked with the ethics expert on my staff about whether recusal was warranted and the determination was that it was not. Now, in theory, you can always recuse as a discretionary matter. You can decide that you don’t want to you don’t want to deal with the issue. And so, you know, you can step out. But I felt that that would be irresponsible on my part.

 

Rod Rosenstein: No matter who wound up in the line of fire for this, it was going to be very unpleasant. And so I thought would be irresponsible to me to step out unless there were a legal justification for me to do it. So once the I discussed with the ethics expert and determined that there was no requirement for recusal, I did not recuse. But I would have happily if, you know, if the determination had been otherwise. But I think part of the impetus this thought that I had some obligation recuse is fueled by a misperception about what had happened by the thought that I was somehow trying to cover up for the president. But there was never any inconsistency about the memo that I wrote and the reasons why I wrote it. And so, I don’t think any need for recusal ever arose.

 

Katie Barlow: So, it’s been reported by multiple news outlets that around the same time that all of this was happening, that you were in a conversation and suggested wearing a wire to record President Trump. Just tell us if you if you will. What are the circumstances around that story and that conversation?

 

Rod Rosenstein: You know, there’ve been a lot of stories that have come out about that period of time, and most of them are unattributed. So, I’m not sure whether they’re firsthand participants or whether they’re people spinning what they think happened in these meetings.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But essentially, Katie, what happened was there was an ongoing covert investigation, the Russian investigation involved a classified national security investigation, as well as related criminal investigations. And in the course of those investigations, Andrew McCabe has talked publicly about some of the things that happened. And in addition to that, there’s a memo that Mr. McCabe wrote that the department has released and declassified. The majority of the investigation, though, remains classified. So, you know, someday, if the department does make the decision to declassify the whole thing, I’ll be free to talk more broadly about it. But what I can tell you with regard to that particular issue is that Andy McCabe and I worked together for a long period of time. We didn’t always agree on things at the beginning of the investigation. As you know, Andy surprised me with some information, some things that he had done.

 

Rod Rosenstein: He I determined that it would be appropriate to replace Andy as leader of the investigation, not because I concluded that he engaged in misconduct. I didn’t at the time, but because I believed it was better for the integrity of the investigation to have it conducted by somebody independent without the history that Andy had had with Jim Comey and with the President. And so Andy may bear a grudge against me for that, as well as the fact that he was subsequently fired. But at the time, Mr. McCabe articulated in his memo, had open certain investigations. And I had a discussion with him about what investigative steps he wanted to pursue. He determined that there was not a need to record conversations with the president, either his or mine, because keep in mind, Andy’s theory was that the president was trying to obstruct the investigation by influencing the FBI director, not the deputy attorney general, but the FBI director. And he, of course, was the acting director and a candidate to be the presidential nominee for FBI director.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But the bottom line, Katie, is that no recordings were made. I did not intend to record conversations with the president, but I should add, you know, if I believe that the president or anybody else was trying to engage me in criminal activity, I would have recorded them. I didn’t need Andy McCabe’s permission to do that.

 

Rod Rosenstein: The bottom line is that I just did not believe that. Obviously, I knew the president’s views about the investigation. He’s very public about it. But I never felt that the president was trying to involve me in any criminal activity.

 

Katie Barlow: So there is a book coming out this week, four by Jeffrey Toobin called True Crimes and Misdemeanors, and he quotes this back and forth with you and McCabe. And it is not sourced and we can all have our own suspicions about where the information came from. But I’m going to I’m going to read it to you to get your gauge on its accuracy, its quote, “What would we do in an obstruction investigation? In a normal case, Rosenstein asked the group more or less rhetorically, quote, While the whole point is to capture their intent state of mind, we’d find an informant to wire up to get admissions. We could do the same thing here.” And then Toobin goes on to write, quote, Then Rosenstein explained how the team might go about collecting evidence on the president, quote, attributing to, you know, one searches me when I go to the White House. He went on, quote,” I could wear a wire and get admissions from Trump. No problem.” Is that accurate?

 

Rod Rosenstein: No, that’s not an accurate quotation, Katie. And, you know, some of it strikes me as somebody else’s reasoning rather than mine.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But  certainly the issue of how the investigation is going to be conducted was a matter of discussion. I don’t know what Mr. McCabe planned to do. I still don’t know what Mr. McCabe is planning to do. He’s talked about the investigation quite a bit, but he’s never really explained what he would have done differently or what he believes should have been done in the course of the investigation. But I believe that we made the right decisions and I’m not going to argue about what words were used that those are not accurate quotations. But we did have a conversation about how the investigation was going to be conducted, because that obviously was of great importance to me and ultimately would have been my responsibility. So, you know, that part of it is accurate.

 

Joe Lockhart: Let’s shift, if we can, to Bob Mueller, who eventually became the special counsel when you reached out to him, were you did you have in your mind he might be the special counsel? Were you looking to get some insight over who should run the FBI? What was your thinking when you reached out to him?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Actually, both, Joe, we had, there was a lot going on in the first couple of weeks that I was on the job, one of which was, one important issue was that we needed a new FBI director and there was an urgency about finding appropriate candidates. And the Attorney General and I and ultimately the president talked to Bob Mueller for his advice. And so that was one issue. And I also asked Director Mueller a couple of days before I appointed him whether he would be willing to serve as special counsel if I determined it to be appropriate. And I made clear to him in that first conversation, I had not made a decision. But, you know, when you’re in a job like that Joe, you need to know what your options are. And so, I thought it was important for me to know whether or not somebody with the stature and experience of Bob Mueller would be willing to do the job.

 

Rod Rosenstein: Because if I were to appoint a special counsel, which ultimately, I decided to do, I wanted to make sure that it would make things better, not worse, in terms of introducing conflicts or apparent conflicts into the investigation. And so obviously, everybody on all sides takes issue with Director Mueller for one reason or another. That’s the nature of the job. But I believe that adding Director Mueller to the investigation and removing Mr. McCabe from the chain of command at that time was the right decision in terms of promoting confidence in the integrity of the investigation.

 

Joe Lockhart: One of the things the president likes to say when he goes after Bob Mueller is the day before he was appointed special counsel, he came to the White House and using the president’s word, “begged” to be the new director of the FBI. Was that your impression of what Bob Mueller was doing that day?

 

Rod Rosenstein: No. Bob Mueller, based on my experience, he did not want to be the director of the FBI again. He’d already done it. He does entire 10-year term. They drafted him for another two. And, based on my conversations with Bob Mueller at the time, I don’t believe he had any desire to be director again.

 

Joe Lockhart: So, for you, what was the tipping point? I mean, obviously, this was a short period of time and there was a lot of pressure on you. What was the tipping point for you that a special counsel was needed?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Joe, the decision to appoint a special counsel is a function of all the facts and circumstances at the time, and so it would be unfair for me to identify a tipping point as one thing that mattered more than all others. I sat down and talked with my team and ultimately made the decision that based upon everything that had happened and everything I knew, which included, of course, the ongoing criminal investigations and what I viewed as the most important issue, which was the Russian efforts to interfere with the election, not just the 2016 election, but ongoing Russian efforts, which I have every reason to believe continue today. I had a responsibility to make sure that investigation was done. I had a responsibility to make sure it was done properly with the maximum public confidence in the outcome. And I determined that under all those circumstances, the best way to get that done in a way that would allow people to have confidence in the results was to bring in somebody with the experience and stature of Bob Mueller and to replace Mr. McCabe. And I still believe that obviously people can take issue with the outcome of the investigation. I know there are obviously a lot of strong disagreements about volume to the obstruction portion of Mr. Mueller’s report. But the most important part of that report is actually volume one and in fact, volume two, largely concerned things that had not happened yet at that time. And I believe with regard to volume one, with regard to the fact that the Russians did take active measures to try to sway American opinions and try to shake confidence in democracy and foment unrest in America. And number two, that the evidence did not support a conclusion that participants in the Trump campaign conspired with those Russians. Those are the critical findings of the investigation.

 

Katie Barlow: So this wasn’t your first experience investigating the executive branch’s we talked about earlier, you served as an associate independent counsel under Ken Starr. Did you give Bob Mueller any advice or guidance from your experience during the Whitewater investigation?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Yes, I did in two respects. Number one, the I really three respects.

 

Rod Rosenstein: Number one, the special counsel is not an independent counsel. And the difference is primarily structural. That is, an independent counsel does not report to the attorney general. But there are other implications of that. And one of them is that the attorney general retains the responsibility or in my case, the acting attorney general retains the responsibility for supervising the special counsel and for being politically accountable for the decisions that he or she makes. And so I made clear to Director Mueller that that was the relationship that we would have. And he was a subordinate official in the Department of Justice. I appointed a team of senior officials in the department, both career non-career, who spoke with Director Mueller and his team on a regular basis, monitored what they did.

 

Rod Rosenstein: We submitted all charges that normally would require approval of components of the Department of Justice, the tax division, the criminal division, the National Security Division. We submitted those through the ordinary course for review and approval when appropriate. And so those rules had to be followed. I also explained to Director Mueller that the goal of this investigation was to get to the bottom line quickly. The bottom line being did, is there evidence that would support criminal charges against Russians who interfered in the election? And number two, is there evidence that would support prosecution of people who conspired with them or who make false statements and obstructed the investigation because a number of the open criminal cases at the time related to obstruction and false statements. And that’s something also that’s really misunderstood. Many reports, critiques of my role in the investigation described me as starting it. But the reality is that there were investigations ongoing. There were dozens, probably scores of federal agents conducting those investigations. And federal prosecutors in several offices were engaged in the investigation. And so what I did was attempted to corral all that, gave it to somebody I trusted to review the evidence, determine which matters, warranted further investigation, which did not. And so the directions I gave the director Mueller, were to narrow the investigation, to focus on the key issues. The Whitewater investigation, as you know, went off in many different directions. That’s not a critique of Ken Starr was just a very different model. The goal here was to resolve the core issues quickly and to avoid getting distracted by things that were not central to resolving those core issues.

 

Joe Lockhart: So, Rod, the president tweeted more than 250 times about Bob Mueller and his investigation. He called Mueller “dirty”, “corrupt” and “conflicted”, called the investigation a “witch hunt”, a “hoax” and a “scam”. Do you agree with any of that?

 

Rod Rosenstein: No.

 

Joe Lockhart: Do you think that that had any impact on the investigation?

 

Rod Rosenstein: I don’t believe it had an impact on the investigation, it certainly had an impact on public perceptions of the investigation and I think that that’s unfortunate. But people who are conducting that investigation were accustomed to being in circumstances that were politically sensitive. Bob Mueller, like me, had been around the department for a long time.

 

Rod Rosenstein: I’ve seen other instances flare up. You know, it’s funny, Joe, some of the younger folks who work within the department thought that we were in unprecedented times and obviously with the existence of the Internet and the president’s ability to articulate his thoughts and immediately spread them to millions of people, that’s a novel method. But in terms of the nature of the investigation and the pushback that we got, I know you around the Clinton White House and you’re aware that the similar things happened in the Clinton administration. Going back to my experience, joining the department in 1990 when Bill Barr was Attorney General, the first time in 1990 to in 1993, he appointed several special counsel to investigate sensitive matters. So, these things do flare up from time to time, and you need to make sure that the people that you’re entrusting with these investigations understand that they’re going to take some heat and they’ve got to stay focused on their mission.

 

Joe Lockhart: I can stay on tweets just for a second? It’s a little off subject, but the president has tweeted repeatedly over the last six to 12 months that President Obama led a spying effort against his campaign and committed illegal acts.

 

Joe Lockhart: Did you see anything at your time at Department of Justice that indicated President Obama had committed a crime?

 

Rod Rosenstein: No, I didn’t you know, this Durham investigation has been going on for some time, and I anticipate that at some point we’ll see the results of that investigation and then we’ll hopefully put this entire issue to bed. But no, I didn’t see that. And whether you characterize what the FBI was doing as spying or not, you know, that may be a matter of interpretation. But in terms of an effort to get information that could be used against the political campaign, I do not see any evidence of that.

 

Joe Lockhart: And I would assume you paid somewhat careful attention to the president’s tweets since he was tweeting very often. So is that correct?

 

Rod Rosenstein: I think it would be fair to say, Joe, that I was painfully aware, but I try not to pay too much attention.

 

Joe Lockhart: Do you think the last question on this and I’ll let you off the hook Attorney General Barr before Congress said that he wasn’t aware of the president’s tweets, that seemed very unlikely to me because his tweets were about DOJ and the investigation.

 

Rod Rosenstein: No, I did not watch General Barr’s testimony, but I certainly think it’s credible that Bill Barr doesn’t follow Twitter. So if the information came to his attention, presumably it would be through media reports and media briefings from his aide. But, you know, he’s certainly not following Twitter on a daily basis.

 

Katie Barlow: So let’s go back in time just a little bit before the Mueller report came out. Attorney General Sessions resigned in November of twenty eighteen. At what point did your oversight of the Mueller investigation end?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, technically, my oversight ended then in a sense that the special counsel reports to the attorney general or the acting attorney general. And upon General Sessions resignation, Matt Whitaker was appointed acting attorney general and therefore became responsible for overseeing the investigation. But no one, General Whitaker, actually took a couple of weeks to clear the ethics issues until he fully asserted control. Number two, I and my team had been managing this for 18 months. And so we continued to serve to play a role there. But but Matt actually appointed his own staffer to oversee the special counsel investigation. And so, after the ethics issue was cleared, he was responsible for signing off on any final decisions.

 

Joe Lockhart: So, Attorney General Barr takes over eventually and Special Counsel Mueller finishes his report and the attorney general took what a lot of people thought was an unusual step before the report was ready to be issued to the public, which, again, he didn’t have to do that. He held a press conference and released a four-page letter summarizing the Mueller report that became a very controversial issue there. There are many, myself included, that felt like that that prejudice the report and that there was intent there by Attorney General Gonzales to before the full volumes of the report came out to create the impression about what was in the report. Were you involved in that decision? And why was Attorney General Barr doing that?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Well, Joe, I don’t want to speak for attorney general, but I think he’s been asked this at least one of the hearings and he’s provided his own answers. Bill Barr makes his own decisions. I was certainly around the department and I was involved and certainly consulted with General Barr. And as he explained, I agreed with the conclusion that the evidence collected by the special counsel did not warrant any additional prosecutions. Now, the decision about what to tell the public and whether to hold a press conference. You know, Joe, there aren’t any rules about that. But the investigation had been concluded. The decisions have been made. And General Barr made a decision, that he should explain his views to the public and he had the legal right to do that. And people have criticized him for it. People have questioned whether it violates department policies. I don’t think it does violate department policies. But did the inspector general would be able to investigate it? But that’s a decision the general bar made. And I think it’s important to distinguish, Joe, the role of the Department of Justice in a criminal investigation is to determine whether or not a prosecution should be pursued. You make that decision and in the ordinary case, you close your files and go home. This was an extraordinary case because upon making that decision, the attorney general had decided that he was going to release to the Congress and to the public the entire Mueller report with only those redactions that are required by law. And I think if you’re going to criticize the attorney general for expressing his opinion about it, you ought to give some acknowledgment to the fact that he made that decision to release that report to the public so people are free to make their own decisions. And as I said, the department had already made its decision if Congress was going to take any action on that. They’re not bound by anything that Attorney General Barr says. So I think some of that criticism is unfair.

 

Joe Lockhart: How about how about the idea, though, that he gave his opinion of the report two weeks before people had a chance to read it for themselves?

 

Rod Rosenstein: I don’t know that I would agree with that. He initially wrote the letter three or four-page letter where he summarized what he referred to as the principal conclusions of the report. And people have pointed out that it’s incomplete. But obviously it’s a four-page summary of the principal conclusions of a report that several hundred pages. But he had committed to release the entire report to the public. So ultimately, Joey did that and people are free to draw their own conclusions. So, I think that if folks in the Congress, for example, read that report and believe that additional action is required, well, they’re free to take it. The attorney general does not control what they do.

 

Joe Lockhart: Now, in the letter, he cites the fact that you agreed with him that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to establish that the president committed obstruction of justice. Katie the lawyer here on our Words Matter team. I’m not so you can you can set me straight. But, you know, I watched the Lester Holt interview and the president says straight out of his mouth that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. He has his several conversations with Don McGann trying to get other people fired and the coming. So I guess I’m trying to understand. Where how do you how both you and BA came to that conclusion, and I’m also informed by some 2000 prosecutors who thought the president obstructed justice?

 

Rod Rosenstein: You know, Joe, I don’t know how much those prosecutors knew about the facts or whether they had ever personally prosecuted obstruction cases. I can only draw on my own experience, having been in the department for 30 years, much of that doing public corruption, work, handling obstruction and other similar cases.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And my conclusion was that the evidence set forth in that report would not warrant prosecution. And obviously, when the Attorney General released the report that freed people to express their own opinion. But it remains my opinion that the evidence would not support it, that if you tried to go to trial on that evidence, you would not get a conviction. You might not even get to a jury because the judge might find the evidence insufficient to prove the elements of the crime. And the reason for that, Joe, is that the fact that the president may have wanted the investigation to end is not sufficient to constitute obstruction of justice. You need to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the president was acting with corrupt intent. And that’s the key element you need to prove and you need to prove it to the unanimous satisfaction of a jury.

 

Rod Rosenstein: You’d need to face you need to introduce witnesses who are going to be cross-examined and the defense would be able to introduce their own witnesses. So you now to read a letter or even to read a report and just toss off the opinion that, gee, I think that’s obstruction. That’s just not the way it works. To make a decision like that would take a take a commitment by federal prosecutors who believed that they were prepared to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt. And and I don’t think that that’s true.

 

Joe Lockhart: So we have a couple I just have a couple of questions that I’m sure our listeners would love to hear your take on and their broad issues, not necessarily on this one. Why is it that it’s department Justice policy or guidelines that a president should not be indicted?

 

Rod Rosenstein: That issue has been addressed two separate times in the Nixon administration, so Republican lawyers in the department reached that conclusion and again in the Clinton administration. So Democratic lawyers reached that conclusion. And the decision is based on the impracticality. Since no one impracticality following the president court on criminal charges, no to the structural challenge, since the president is, in fact, the head of the executive branch. And so, in a sense, all criminal cases are brought under the president’s authority as a legal matter. It would be, in the view of the folks who wrote those memos, unconstitutional. Now, my view is that if a case were to arise in which the evidence justified prosecution of the president, if somebody came to me when I was deputy attorney general and said, we believe this evidence merits prosecution of the president, then we’d have to take a close look at that policy and determine whether or not we felt bound by it, because it’s not law, it’s just the interpretation of these lawyers. And it could always be changed. But my view is that is fundamentally correct, that if you determine the president had committed a crime that merited prosecution to prosecute him while he’s in office would not be practical. And so then you need to consider whether there are other remedies, such as referring it to Congress, to make a determination whether or not Congress determined that impeachment was appropriate, which is basically what Ken Starr did in Whitewater. I was not involved in that aspect of the investigation, but you’d have to reach that decision at that point. But my view is that the policy does not prohibit us from conducting investigations. We still have an obligation to conduct an investigation, but it might, at the end of the day, preclude us from filing a prosecution while the president was in office.

 

Joe Lockhart: Last question on this, I was involved in Whitewater, which turned into the impeachment investigation in that investigation, the independent counsel and I understand it’s different than the special counsel subpoenaed the president and ended up compelling the president to testify under oath.

 

Joe Lockhart: What’s your view on whether President Trump should have been compelled to testify under oath?

 

Rod Rosenstein: Joe, the special counsel, I think, testified about this last year at his hearing, and he determined not to pursue that. And so ultimately, I did not have to face that issue. If he had presented it as a recommendation that he believed the evidence warranted a subpoena to the president, I would review that evidence, consult with my advisers, and that would have been a very challenging decision for us to make.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But the issue did not arise because the special counsel did not believe it was the right move. And part of that rationale, of course, is that it would have taken a very long time. President presumably would have objected. It would have been litigated a long time, would have gone by. And so what the special counsel had away was the significance of the allegations, the time it was going to take and the and the probability of developing evidence as a result of that process. And then he determined not to do it. So that’s a very good example, Joe, of the kind of decision that I think needs to be left in the first instance to an independent prosecutor. And that’s the point that was really the point of appointing Director Mueller is so that that decision would be made independently of politics. Whether you agree or disagree with what Director Mueller did, I think everybody recognizes that he’s somebody who has an extraordinary record of ignoring politics and doing what he believed to be the right thing.

 

Katie Barlow: So last question here, that that ends things about a month after the report came out a little bit over a month after that on April 29th thousand nineteen, that’s when you submitted your resignation letter to President Trump. And I want to quote from that briefly. You said, I’m grateful to you for the opportunity to serve for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations and for the goals you set in your inaugural address patriotism, unity, safety, education and prosperity because a nation exists to serve its citizens.

 

Katie Barlow: Now, I know we don’t talk about personal conversations with the presidents we serve, but courtesy and humor and unity aren’t things we usually associate with Donald Trump.

 

Katie Barlow: So why those particular words?

 

Rod Rosenstein: He actually did – I was grateful for the fact that despite what the president was saying publicly and sometimes saying in his tweets that he was courteous in his personal interactions with me and he also often displayed a sense of humor that people don’t often see, that you certainly don’t see that and some of the angry press conferences that he holds. But that’s what I saw. And I thought it was important for me in that letter to articulate two things. Number one, how I felt about the Department of Justice. I am a believer in the principles the Department of Justice and most importantly, I know from experience that we should have great confidence in the personnel of the Department of Justice. That’s not to say they don’t make mistakes, but we do have internal affairs officers. We have corrective mechanisms in the department. We have a hundred and ten thousand employees and people are going to make mistakes. But we have mechanisms to correct them. And so based upon that, I have tremendous confidence in the integrity of the Department of Justice and I have tremendous gratitude for the folks who serve in the department.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And number two, Katie I actually was grateful to the president for putting me in that job and for allowing me to do the job, despite obviously the tweets and the attacks, which I could have done without. The bottom line is that he didn’t allow me to finish that investigation, despite the fact that he had a lot of people whispering in his ear that he should terminate me or end the investigation. And so that’s what’s reflected in that letter. I spent 30 years in the department. I’m proud of what I accomplished there. I’m proud of the work that I and my colleagues did in the department. And it’s unfortunate that the public gets a different impression because all you hear about the Department of Justice are allegations about alleged wrongdoing. And often you hear it from people who have a partisan view of what the department does. But if you look at the day to day work of those hundred and ten thousand people in the Department of Justice, I think Americans would be very proud of of what they’re doing on their behalf.

 

Joe Lockhart: You’ve been really generous with your time, I want to ask you a couple of quick questions before we let you go. There’s some of the things that Mueller was that worked on in the prosecutions and the convictions he got, you know, are still in the news. So I want to ask you about a couple of those. Michael Flynn, who he got a guilty plea out of the Department of Justice now went to went to the court to try to have that overturned. Did that undermine the work of Mueller and the work that the Department of Justice had done at the time?

 

Rod Rosenstein: No, it didn’t, in my view, Joe, you know, I don’t talk about pending cases and so I can’t talk directly about that case, but what I can tell you is that, you know, I’ve worked on many cases and supervised many cases in my career.

 

Rod Rosenstein: And typically, when a defendant is represented by good lawyers, which General Flynn was, and comes in and pleads guilty and acknowledges that they willfully made a false statement, you typically can be confident that they did. So it was quite a surprise to me when those facts developed in the department’s pleading that was filed earlier this year. I’ve been gone for about a year at that point, so I don’t have any personal knowledge of the information that came to light in that pleading. But, you know, I think we’ll have to wait and see. I haven’t heard any allegation, you know, that any particular prosecutor engaged in wrongdoing. Obviously, people could disagree about what is or is not exculpatory evidence. And I think ultimately we have to wait and let the courts sort it out.

 

Joe Lockhart: There were a fair number of prosecutors who didn’t want to put their name on that pleading and some who have resigned. That one case that is is over is the Roger Stone case.

 

Joe Lockhart: This is a case that Attorney General Barr admitted last week that he personally intervened and he said Roger Stone is a friend of the president. Just does that sort of personal intervention create a, you know, a structural problem and perception problem for DOJ?

 

Rod Rosenstein: So first of all, Joe, it’s not really over, as I tell people in Washington, it’s never over. You know, the stone case, he’s not going to prison, but the case actually remains in court on that issue. I think we have to distinguish between, obviously, the perception and the reality. The perception is there. It’s unavoidable. I think everybody recognizes that.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But on the other hand, as the attorney general said, it’s actually the judge’s responsibility to determine the appropriate sentence. And the judge did agree with Bill Barr. So the prosecutors are certainly right that in the ordinary case, they would recommend a sentence that fell under the sentencing guidelines and then let the judge make the determination. So it’s unusual to have a supervisor step in and lower the recommendation. But at the end of the day, the judge made that decision. And I think that people have criticized Bill Barr for that fail, also to give him credit for the fact that he has defended the conviction and he has stated that he believes that the sentence that was imposed by the judge was correct. And according to media reports, which I believe are probably credible, he was not in favor of the commutation. So so, yes, it’s unfortunate. Yes, I know it does create that that perception. And obviously, I would have preferred that it not be handled in the way that it was handled.

 

Joe Lockhart: My last question is a personal one. I haven’t been in and around Washington for a long time. There was a period of time, I don’t remember the exact week where every time you turned on the news, you saw a headline saying Rod Rosenstein being fired today, Rod Rosenstein going to the White House to be fired. You were not. But how did that feel during that week when, you know, everyone in the world was speculating on what your future was?

 

Rod Rosenstein: You know, it’s interesting, Joe, living through that kind of experience, and it is novel in the sense that, you know, this this 24/7 media cycle and the real time coverage on the Internet didn’t exist when you were in the White House 20 years ago.

 

Rod Rosenstein: But you do develop a sense of humor about it after a while. I have two teenage daughters and, you know, they would see these reports on the news. And I would tell them, look, if I actually get fired, I’ll let you know. Otherwise try to avoid try to ignore the media. And, of course, what you appreciate, which a lot of people don’t appreciate, is that getting fired from a political job is not the end of the world. You know, you move on. It’s intended to be a short-term job. You move on to other things. And so there are a lot of things worse than being fired or being rumored to be fired. But, you know, in this administration, I think people have gotten used to that. The president obviously has shown a willingness to fire his own people and often speculates about it, or at least stories flowed out that he’s speculating about firing one person or another. And so you develop kind of a gallows sense of humor about it. And I hope that if you talk to my staff, the folks I worked with day in and day out, that they would tell you that we largely just try to ignore that. I didn’t watch TV, I didn’t follow Twitter. My days were filled with meetings and with decisions and memos coming across my desk. And so we did our best to try to try to tune that out. As a matter of fact, I had been the deputy attorney general’s office from having a television set on. And, you know, that’s the thing to do in Washington. Every office you walk into now has a four panel TV. So, they’re following the breaking news because the message that I gave to my team was that we need to be worried about what’s going to happen to the country in the next 30 years, not just the next 30 minutes. And I hope we succeeded in doing that.

 

Katie Barlow: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, Rod, we appreciate it.

 

Rod Rosenstein: You’re welcome. Glad to be with you.

 

Joe Lockhart: Thank you, Rod.