(CNSNews.com) - The Justice Department must "hold people accountable when they violate the rules," but it "must never be a partisan actor," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a speech to the American Bar Association's annual meeting in Chicago on Thursday.
"In all cases, agents and prosecutors are obligated to make neutral decisions, preserve personal privacy, protect national security, and insulate investigations from political interference."
Rosenstein's speech came as President Trump continues to rail against Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as a "disgrace" and a "TOTAL HOAX," and as Mueller brings his first case stemming from that investigation. President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is now on trial in Virginia for matters unrelated to his role in the Trump campaign.
(President Trump has tweeted his displeasure about Manafort's treatment, writing earlier this week: "Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and 'Public Enemy Number One,' or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement - although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?")
Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation, sprinkled his speech with historical anecdotes, including one about future President John Adams agreeing, out of a "sense of duty," to represent the British soldiers charged with murdering colonists during the Boston Massacre.
"Adams endured harsh criticism in the court of public opinion," Rosenstein said, noting that Adams succeeded in getting acquittals for seven of his clients and minor punishments for two others.
"During his closing argument, Adams famously said that '[f]acts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.'
"Those words remind us that people who seek the truth need to avoid confirmation bias and remain open to the possibility that the truth may not match our preconceptions...Truth is about solid evidence, not strong opinions," said Rosenstein, whose boss, Donald Trump, is known for sharing his strong opinions almost daily.
"Lawyers bear a solemn responsibility to defend Constitutional principles, particularly government lawyers," said Rosenstein, who is under fire from congressional Republicans for failing to produce documents related to their oversight of the FBI and Justice Department.
In fact, before leaving town for their August recess, members of the Freedom Caucus introduced articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, who defended himself via anecdote on Thursday:
He was speaking about former Attorney General Robert Jackson who served in the 1940s:
One of the difficulties Jackson faced was what he called the “unpleasant duty” of responding to congressional inquiries about law enforcement investigations. He explained that “lawyers must at times risk ourselves … to defend our legal processes from discredit, and to maintain a dispassionate, disinterested, and impartial enforcement of the law.”
Jackson observed that lawyers “who sit temporarily in the position of government counsel, are subject to [obligations] … that those outside the profession never” face. He contrasted the special duties of government lawyers with “the volatile values of politics.” Jackson understood that “[f]undamental things in our American way of life depend on the intellectual integrity, courage and straight thinking of … government lawyers.”
Although political tempers flare from time to time, Jackson remained confident that “temporary passion” will eventually yield to “sober second thought” about the rule of law. “We must have the courage to face any temporary criticism,” Jackson urged, because “the moral authority of our legal process” depends on government lawyers acting impartially and respecting the distinction between law and politics.
Rosenstein mentioned President Trump by name only once, at the very end of his speech:
President Trump selected a superb team of skilled and principled lawyers to lead the Department of Justice and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasizes that we do “not represent any narrow interest or any subset of the American people. We represent all of the American people and protect the integrity of our Constitution.”
We are responsible for helping to develop and faithfully implement the President’s law enforcement policies in a manner consistent with longstanding nonpartisan principles. Our decisions do not please all the people all the time, but they always reflect the care, caution, and wisdom required by the law.
That is what the President appointed us to do. It is what the Senate confirmed us to do. It is what the oath of office obligates us to do. We will keep the faith, defend the Constitution, and promote the rule of law.