Why must everything Rosenstein be filled with drama?
In my three decades of reporting on the criminal justice system, the deputy attorney general has always been one of the most critical jobs in law enforcement.
The DAG, as he or she is called on the inside, really runs the day-to-day machinations of the Department of Justice (DOJ), to ensure the agenda of the attorney general and the president is carried out legally and without controversy, whenever possible.
The job requires a steel hand, a commonsense loyalty to the Constitution over politics, a cast-iron stomach, and a flair for avoiding the dramatic.
Over the years, some legal giants executed the job with distinction. Laurence Silberman wielded a steady hand in the aftermath of Watergate, and even helped to expose the abuses of J. Edgar Hoover's secret files in order to restore confidence in the FBI.
Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderJuan Williams: Democrats finally hit Trump where it hurts GOP governor vetoes New Hampshire bill to create independent redistricting commission Why target Tucker Carlson? It's part of the left's war on the right MORE was a calming force during the turbulent era of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonNew data challenges Trump's economic narrative The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers Prince Andrew says he didn't 'witness or suspect' criminal behavior from Epstein MORE's scandals. And Larry Thompson kept the ship on course for John Ashcroft and George W. Bush just before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
If they do their jobs well, DAGs seldom become household names, but their bosses and the department operate effectively and the public feels like DOJ is run by the book with "nothing but the facts, ma’am" efficiency.
Which brings me to Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSanders, Warren back major shift to fight drug overdoses 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Why the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to Trump MORE, one of the few DAGs in recent history to more resemble a Hollywood soap-opera actor than a real-life Detective Joe Friday.
Rosenstein's tenure has been chronicled in the media almost as much as Paris Hilton’s party exploits on tabloid TV and the Kardashians' love lives on Instagram, thanks to a relentless stream of news media leaks that voided any semblance of the secrecy and dignity that the DOJ’s work normally is afforded.
When questions surfaced, for instance, about an old criminal case that Rosenstein handled as U.S. attorney, the DOJ’s leak machine initially put out a false story.
The evidence showed that the DOJ and the FBI knew Russia’s nuclear-energy firm was engaged in bribery and other illegalities just before the Obama administration allowed the company to buy the U.S. assets of Uranium One in 2010. Rosenstein eventually brought criminal charges in 2014, but it was long after Moscow had gained the U.S. nuclear assets. Only one question lingered: Did the DOJ and the FBI alert the administration to the criminality, or did they drop the ball.
Rosenstein never answered that question. Instead, anonymous DOJ sources leaked stories suggesting the FBI informant in the case couldn’t be trusted and that he never even collected any intelligence from the Russians about the Uranium One transaction.
Well, that bogus story fell apart when evidence emerged that the FBI paid a $50,000 bonus to the informant after the case ended and that the FBI files were filled with several intel reports about the Uranium One transaction.
I broke that story. And immediately after I did, Rosenstein dispatched two aides to meet with me to review the documents so they could alter their story, or at least fit it into the new set of facts.
Rosenstein’s account about his and others' contacts with President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE on the Russia case likewise have been leaked ad nauseam, picking up steam as Congress pressured to get documents released showing what Rosenstein himself may have known about flaws in the investigation.
Consider the jaw-dropping leak from this past April, when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow got hold of a trove of documents showing what Rosenstein’s predecessor kept as notes about Trump’s conversations with fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE. The leak occurred right as stories were growing that Trump was unhappy with Rosenstein, and Comey was on a book tour.
But the granddaddy of the Rosenstein soap opera played out these past few days, right as the DOJ was making a last-ditch effort to block Trump’s request to declassify documents that would show whether Rosenstein himself misled the nation’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court about weaknesses in the Russia evidence.
Just as the president delayed his order so the DOJ’s independent watchdog could consider any concerns about making the information public, the ultimate bombshell leaked: The New York Times reported that Rosenstein had contemplated wearing a wire to incriminate the president and get evidence to justify removing him from office under the 25th Amendment.
The story had “Fire Rosenstein” written all over it.
And the DAG’s effort to explain himself faltered. At first, he said that if he had said anything like that, it was just in jest and he did not believe Trump deserved to be removed from office. Then he updated his statement to say that he never gave instructions to carry out such an idea.
The TV talk shows and newspaper headline writers loved this yarn and built a narrative that put Rosenstein a step away from martyrdom, like the officials that Richard Nixon fired in Watergate's "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973.
There was just one problem. The president, according to my sources, did not intend to fire Rosenstein. The DAG wasn’t in on the secret quite yet. The president is waiting for all the facts rather than make a hasty determination.
So when Rosenstein was summoned to the White House on Monday, he did not know the purpose. And his team decided to leak the bombshell that he was ready to resign rather than be fired. The episode was the ultimate bluff call — Rosenstein leaking information to build a martyrdom narrative that wasn’t really playing out.
And so he was unmasked, poignantly, as exactly the type of drama queen the DAG’s office doesn’t need.
The bitter taste of soap from this opera still lingers in our collective mouths. And it leaves me wondering about one thing: Is the Rosenstein drama distracting us from what eventually may come out in the Russia documents?
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.