Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official overseeing special counselor Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, said Monday that criticism of Mueller’s investigation from President Donald Trump and his allies is unwarranted.
"The special counsel is not an unguided missile," Rosenstein told USA Today in an interview published Monday evening, estimating that he spends less than 5 percent of his week on issues related to Mueller’s probe. "I don't believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel."
Rosenstein did not mention Trump by name in his discussion of the widespread criticism of Mueller, although the president has led the charge in attacking the special counselor’s investigation, characterizing it often as a witch hunt initiated by Democrats embarrassed by the 2016 loss of Hillary Clinton. Last June, Trump ordered that Mueller be fired but was talked out of the decision by White House counsel Don McGahn.
The deputy attorney general said much of the work his department does is not covered by the media and is not criticized, even amid a culture of skepticism surrounding the department stirred by, among other issues, the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a personal email server as secretary of state, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s airport meeting with Bill Clinton in the closing days of that investigation and a memo from House Republicans alleging misuse of the FISA court system by the Justice Department in relation to the Russia investigation.
"I believe much of the criticism will fall by the wayside when people reflect on this era and the Department of Justice," said Rosenstein, who did not refer to Trump directly. "I'm very confident that when the history of this era is written, it will reflect that the department was operated with integrity."
Rosenstein, who took oversight of the Russia probe in the spring of 2017 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all investigations related to the 2016 election, drew the ire of Trump by appointing Mueller in the wake of the firing of then-FBI Director James Comey. Trump has been coy when asked if Rosenstein enjoyed his full confidence, telling reporters in February, “you figure that one out.”
"I feel very confident in my ability to do the job," Rosenstein said. "In any political job, you recognize that your time is going to be limited. My goal is to get as much done for as long as I'm here in the job.