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Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein defends Russia probe

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Rod Rosenstein had an expressionless look as he stood behind William Barr while he briefed reporters on the Mueller report.
USA TODAY

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offered a staunch defense of the Justice Department’s oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation late Thursday, claiming that evidence of Russia’s election interference campaign represented “only the tip of the iceberg” in the Kremlin’s strategy to undermine the American political system.

A week after a redacted version of Mueller’s investigative report was made public, Rosenstein, who oversaw much of the investigation following the 2017 recusal of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, told an Armenian Bar Association gathering in New York that he only pledged to bring the investigation to “the appropriate conclusion.”

“I did not promise to report all results to the public, because grand jury investigations are (secret) proceedings,” according to Rosenstein’s written remarks. “It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.”

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Rosenstein’s remarks come as Democratic lawmakers are demanding access to the unredacted version of Mueller’s report, which found insufficient evidence that the Trump campaign and Russia engaged in a conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election to President Donald Trump.

Mueller’s team did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the investigation, but Attorney General William Barr and Rosenstein decided that there was insufficient evidence to support such a finding.

Democrats have seized on the decision by Barr and Rosenstein, suggesting that their intervention was inappropriate and that a final decision on obstruction should have been left to Congress to decide.

Rosenstein, who is set to leave the Justice Department next month, also claimed that critical decisions about the course of the investigation had been made before he took office exactly two years ago.

“The previous (Obama) 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 said, adding that the FBI later disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers only to have details “selectively” leaked to reporters.

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A month before taking office, Rosenstein said then-FBI Director James Comey revealed the existence of the counterintelligence investigation at a congressional hearing and later alleged that the president “had pressured him to close the investigation.”

“So that happened,” Rosenstein said, suggesting that he was thrust into an already politically charged position.

“There is a story about firefighters who found a man on a burning bed. When they asked how the fire started, he replied, ‘I don’t know. It was on fire when I lay down on it.’  I know the feeling,” he said.

But Rosenstein said the baseline conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election was undeniable.

“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,” he said.

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Controversial deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is set to leave his post at the Department of Justice in the coming weeks. Veuer’s Nick Cardona has that story.
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