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WASHINGTON — Rod Rosenstein, the man who launched the Mueller investigation, is riding off into the sunset.
You can tell, because now in his last month in office, he’s quoting Eagles lyrics at the end of his speeches. “I’d do it all again; If I could somehow; But I must be leaving soon; It’s your world now,” Rosenstein told a dinner gathering Thursday night in New York.
In his speech, Rosenstein also took the opportunity to fire off shots at his critics, the media, the Obama administration, and former FBI Director Jim Comey. He also defended his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
And he delivered a warning: The Russian election interference measures detailed in Mueller’s 400-page final report are hardly the whole story about what Moscow has been up to — though he didn’t provide further details.
“The bottom line is, there was overwhelming evidence that Russian operatives hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens,” Rosenstein said. “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.”
Rosenstein took aim at the Obama administration’s handling of Russia’s election-meddling and suggested officials should have done more to raise the alarm before Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate in May 2017.
“Some critical decisions about the Russia investigation were made before I got there,” Rosenstein said. “The previous administration chose 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 how the FBI, including Comey, handled the early stages of the investigation into what happened.
“The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media,” Rosenstein said.
In February 2017, a month after Trump took office, a New York Times article cited “four current and former American officials” as saying that the FBI was sifting through communications between Trump campaign staff and Russian officials. That same month, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had privately discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the presidential transition, also citing “current and former U.S. officials.”
Rosenstein recounted how Comey publicly disclosed that the FBI was investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign in March 2017, and alleged that Trump had pushed him to back off investigating Flynn.
“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 said.
“So that happened,” he added.
Mueller ultimately alleged — in criminal indictments filed before his final report was delivered last month — two broad criminal conspiracies among Russian agents to undermine the 2016 election and help tip it in President Trump’s favor.
One involved hacking into Democratic emails and then distributing damaging contents through the renegade transparency group, WikiLeaks. The other involved a vast campaign on social media to inflame divisions in American political life, dampen Democratic turnout, and bolster support for Trump.
Rosenstein also threw elbows at the press: “In politics — as in journalism — the rules of evidence do not apply. That is not a critique. It is just an observation.”
He recounted bumping into a prominent media figure around New Year’s and how he dismissed the unnamed person with an icy snub.
“I saw one of the professional provocateurs at a holiday party,” Rosenstein said. “He said, ‘I’m sorry that I’m making your life miserable.’ And I said, ‘You do your job, and I’ll do mine.’”
Cover image: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein listens was Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)