Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a 1986 Wharton graduate with over two decades of experience in the Department of Justice, has been the subject of numerous headlines since he wrote a highly publicized statement recommending the firing of former FBI Director James Comey in May. A week after that memo, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to head a special counsel investigation into the links between President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and the Russian government's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Rosenstein has continued to expand the investigation even as Trump has dismissed the probe as a "a total fabrication" and "a witch hunt."
On Sept. 5, Rosenstein sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian in the Department of Justice's office in Washington, D.C. to discuss his role in the ongoing investigation by the special counsel, his thoughts on Trump's recent decision to end DACA as well as his experience at Penn.
DP: What is your involvement with the Mueller investigation?
RR: The special counsel reports to the acting attorney general, so I have responsibility for overseeing the operation — that includes budgeting and certain issues that may require approval from the department. But we don’t talk about it publicly, so I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to give you any details.
DP: Have you had any one-on-one interactions with the President?
RR: I don’t talk publicly about my communications with the president or the White House. But it is certainly appropriate for presidential appointees — in the deputy attorney General, attorney general and many other positions in government — to have contact with the president and the White House.
We need to be careful though, about what that contact is and what gets communicated. An important role of the deputy attorney general’s office is to translate policy positions of the administration into operational decisions of the Department of Justice. And so most of the work of the government is unaffected by changes in the administration, but not all of it is.
Just to give you one general example, this administration will have certain priorities that were different than the priorities of the last administration. For example, our emphasis on violent crime, immigration enforcement and drug enforcement, among many other areas.
My responsibility is to make sure that those policies are translated into the operations of the department. But we don’t do it in a partisan way. We do it in a principled way. And that’s really the function of my office.
DP: Penn's President Amy Gutmann has strongly spoken out against Trump's decision to end DACA. From your perspective, is there anything the American people can take away, in a positive way, from this ruling?
RR: As we’ve explained, the Justice Department’s position on this issue is about the rule of law. It’s not about whether it’s good or bad as a policy matter, it’s about what’s authorized by law — and that’s the position that the attorney general has taken. The Congress, of course, is supposed to legislate and has the opportunity to legislate and decide what the law is. And then the department faithfully enforces the law.
DP: What does a day in the life of the deputy attorney general look like?
RR: The role of the deputy attorney general is analogous to being a chief operating officer for a large organization. And the Department of Justice is a very large organization — about 115,000 employees, tens of thousands of contractors who support our work and then many other agencies that either work with us in conducting investigations or that we represent in litigation. All the components of the department report to the deputy, although not all issues require resolution by the deputy.
So there are two aspects to the job — the first is a lot of recurring meetings, because it’s my responsibility to keep in touch with what all components of the department are doing on a regular basis. And the second is crisis management, because in an organization of that size, things are always going wrong.
A result of that is no day is really predictable; you don’t know what will come up on a particular day.
DP: Why did you choose to come to Penn?
RR: I went to Penn in part because it was close to home, in part because it had such a superb reputation and in part because I was admitted to Wharton, which I found to be a really valuable experience. When I entered college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career — I had in the back of my mind, maybe something in science or medicine. I took biology my first year, but decided not to go in that direction. My dad was an accountant, so that’s part of what attracted me to Wharton.
DP: Did your Wharton education help you be a better prosecutor?
RR: I think Wharton was a really valuable foundation for me for law school, because you get accustomed to thinking about things in economic terms; considering the practical consequences of legal decisions. I think it was useful from that perspective.
In terms of how it’s impacted my law career, I became a white-collar prosecutor, so understanding financial matters was helpful to me, and that’s another way that it helped. Later in my career, when I became a supervisor, initially in 2001 and continuing until today, I used a lot of the skills I learned at Wharton. In management, and marketing and finance in particular.
But there are other ways that it helped me. For example, when I was in college, personal computers were relatively novel, and I took a class in which they taught us how to use a spreadsheet program and that really became very handy for me. I still use it today.
DP: Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at Penn?
RR: I started, with a couple of friends, a monthly publication called the Penn World Review, which focused on international affairs. In those days, a newspaper was an old-fashioned newspaper — we actually had to find a printer to print the paper. And we had to go around and sell ads — that was definitely an interesting experience, a sort of a startup experience.
I was also the editor-in-chief of the Penn Course Review. In those days, to survey students, we had to go around to each class at the end of the semester and hand out an 8.5-by-11 inch bubble sheet. Then they would bubble in ratings of their professors and write comments at the bottom. Then we would tabulate that and produce the course review, which I thought was a great tool for people to evaluate which professors would be best for them and which classes might be most valuable.
I was also very active in my college house. I was in Ware College House for my sophomore, junior and senior years. I was active in the governing structure of the college house and I ran one of the committees and produced the newsletter, the Ware College House newsletter, in my senior or junior year. I was also vice president of the pre-law society.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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