Rosenstein: 'There Are a Lot of Reasons Not to Be Transparent About What We Do in Government'

By Susan Jones | February 26, 2019 | 8:09am EST
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies at a June 2018 House Judiciary Committee hearing. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

( - As members of Congress insist on full "transparency" from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the man overseeing Mueller's investigation says transparency is not always a good thing, especially if it involves "misleading" information.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaking about the rule of law at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday, said the transparency issue is a "challenging" one for the Justice Department these days:

One of the challenging issues we face in the Department -- and this is an issue that we'll be discussing nationally -- is the question of whether transparency is a good thing.

And there's a knee-jerk reaction that suggests that we should be transparent about what we do in government. But there are a lot of reasons not to be transparent about what we do in government...You know, the government, just because the government collects information doesn't mean that information is accurate. It can be misleading. If you are overly transparent about information that the government collects...I think we do need to be really cautious about that.

And that's, again, not to comment on any particular case. There may be legitimate reasons for making exceptions. But as a general principle, my view is the Department of Justice is best served when people are confident that we're going to operate, when we're investigating American citizens in particular, we're going to do it with appropriate sensitivity to the rights of uncharged people.

And as I mentioned in my remarks, when we charge somebody with a violation, we need to be prepared to prove it by evidence beyond any reasonable doubt. And the guidance I always gave my prosecutors and the agents that I worked with during my tenure on the frontlines in law enforcement were, if we aren't prepared to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court, then we have no business making allegations against American citizens.

And so, I know there is tension there between the desire to be more transparent and let everybody know what we're doing and the desire to ensure the government, though its work, is not unduly tainting anybody.

But my own view about it is, that we're better off following the rules and ensuring that our employees respect their obligation to conduct their investigations in confidence.

Rosenstein also addressed the many demands for congressional oversight, noting that some individual lawmakers "have suggested that they need to be the reviewers of the work of the Department of Justice."


Rosenstein said the Justice Department has its own internal watchdogs -- specifically, an independent inspector general "whose job it is to conduct independent reviews of the work of the Department of Justice when he determines it's appropriate."

"And those are fully independent reviews that result in detailed reports," he said. "Sometimes they're made public. Sometimes they're sensitive and they're not made public. But when they find wrongdoing or misconduct, which they do regularly, we take appropriate action," Rosenstein said.

"So I think it is reassure people that we do have mechanisms of accountability. We're not going to jump just because somebody goes on cable TV and says there was wrongdoing.

"But if our independent professionals in the Office of Professional Responsibility of the Inspector General make an assessment, and they determine either there is predication or even if there's just concern about whether a process needs to be reviewed, they've got the manpower to do it."

Rosenstein said the DOJ inspector general is an appropriate mechanism to "review these things, because some of the things that we do just aren't appropriate to expose at a congressional hearing. It wouldn't be in the interest of America to do that kind of thing. But it is in the interest of America to know that somebody is going to be able to do it. And fortunately, we do have a mechanism that accomplishes that."

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