Despite enduring months of public criticism from president Donald Trump, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein was in a cheery mood when speaking to a group of lawyers in New York today. He did, however, take a couple of thinly veiled swipes at the president.
“It’s refreshing to get out of Washington every once in a while—I know they say New York is the city that never sleeps but it seems pretty restful to me,” he quipped as he took the podium at the Bloomberg Law Leadership Forum.
Without mentioning the president’s name, Rosenstein proceeded with a couple of pointed remarks, seemingly aimed at Trump’s criticism of his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s connections to the Trump campaign.
Explaining a new policy aimed at stopping “piling on”—situations where companies are punished more than once for the same crime by different government agencies—he said: “The dictionary defines ‘piling on’ as joining other people in criticizing someone, usually in an unfair manner. I also have experience with that.”
It’s been rumored (paywall) for weeks that the US president wants to fire Rosenstein. Trump has long been angered by his decision to appoint Mueller as a special counsel, and particularly enraged by Rosenstein signing off on an FBI raid of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Documents were seized from Cohen’s apartment, office, and hotel room. Former top White House aide Steve Bannon predicted in an interview to be broadcast today that Roseinstein will be fired “very shortly.”
Rosenstein made a tentative move to appease Trump on May 20, ordering the Department of Justice’s inspector general to widen an ongoing investigation to include Trump’s allegations that his campaign had been “infiltrated” by spies for “political purposes.”
Later in his speech today, Rosenstein made a less humorous defense of law enforcement officials, whom Trump has been attacking since before he took office. “One of the things that sometimes gets lost in the endless commentary about law enforcement is that some of the most patriotic and public-spirited Americans work alongside me in the Department of Justice,” he said, citing a visit he’d just made to the New York FBI office. “We instill a culture of ethical conduct from the first day employees take the oath…if you walk into any branch of the Department of Justice anywhere in the country, you will find some of the most decent, ethical, and admirable people you could ever hope to meet.”