Sixth in a Series: Adult Coloring Book, "The Lawyers of Trump-Russia" (feat. Rod Rosenstein)

by Diane Klein

As U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has been so prominent that much of the time - including in the midst of the current immigration crisis - he has vastly overshadowed the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein.  And of course, under ordinary circumstances, most Americans cannot name the Attorney General, much less the Deputy.  But current circumstances are not ordinary, and with Sessions having recused himself from the Russia investigation, Deputy AG Rosenstein is in charge of this extraordinarily important legal and political undertaking - one that is putting him increasingly at odds with the Republican-controlled House.  On Thursday, June 28, 2018, he was back in the spotlight, being questioned by the House Judiciary Committee - and holding up admirably.

The office of Deputy Attorney General has typically been held by lawyers with long resumes from the Department of Justice, fancy Washington, D.C., law firms, Ivy League law schools, and without much taste for fame.  Rosenstein's immediate predecessor, Sally Yates, served briefly as Acting Attorney General, until she was fired by Trump for refusing to defend the first Muslim travel ban.  Yates was preceded by James Cole, perhaps best known for de-emphasizing federal prosecution of marijuana offenses.  His predecessor, Gary Grindler, now a partner at King & Spalding (where Yates began her career), is too obscure to warrant a Wikipedia page.  Rosenstein fits this profile.

But in a mostly below-the-radar way, Rosenstein has so far managed to stay balanced on a slippery tightrope - providing trustworthy leadership at the DOJ while avoiding getting himself fired by Trump (and replaced by someone more compliant).  Sometimes overlooked in the conversations about whether Trump will "fire Mueller" is that under current Justice Department regulations, he cannot do so directly: he would have to order Rosenstein to do it, because Mueller reports to Rosenstein. (Though it should be noted that some legal experts disagree, and argue that Trump could fire Mueller directly.  That noted legal mind Sarah Huckabee Sanders concurs, and Trump himself also claims he could have fired Mueller if he wanted to.) 

At times confounding his supporters, Rosenstein has met with political opponents of the Mueller investigation and emerged uncompromised and unscathed.  On April 12, 2018, Rosenstein was called to the White House and met with Trump for about an hour.  On May 8, 2018, he met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and apparently agreed to provide House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes and House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy a classified briefing related to the Russia investigation a few days later.  But following that briefing - uncharacteristic silence from both of the historically voluble Congressmen.  Now, however, the DOJ's possible lack of compliance with House subpoenas is provoking fresh ire, and Rosenstein was called to testify last Thursday, with Rep. Mark Meadows threatening impeachment if the documents sought are not provided by July 6, 2018, in accord with a resolution passed in the middle of Thursday's hearing.

On May 1, 2018, in a public interview, Rosenstein made clear that "the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted," and in his mostly quiet way, he seems to have made good on that.  He reiterated his defense of the DOJ and FBI before Congress Thursday, and smacked down retiring Rep. Trey "How 'Bout Another Benghazi Investigation?" Gowdy when he voiced his newfound desire to end all investigations as quickly as possible.  "Whatever you got, finish it the hell  up, because this country is being torn apart," Gowdy implored, doing his best imitation of someone who actually cares about such things, but coming off as a poor man's Jimmy Stewart in the role of "The Only Man Who Gives a Damn."  Rosenstein's response was decisive: "I've heard suggestions that we should just close the investigation.  I think the best thing we can do is finish it appropriately and reach a conclusion."

So far, at least, Rosenstein also seems to have the support of his boss.  In the face of GOP challenges to Rosenstein's oversight of the Mueller investigation, based variously on the argument that Rosenstein may be a witness to events related to the Comey firing, and non-compliance with the House subpoenas, Sessions has affirmed his intention to keep Rosenstein at the helm.  Paradoxically, Sessions' leading role in carrying out Trump's horrendous so-called "zero tolerance" policy at the border - in violation of international human rights law, settled asylum law and policy, and human decency more generally - is probably endearing him to Trump enough to keep Sessions (and thus both Rosenstein and Mueller) in place at least until the midterms.

(Art by Andrea McHale, a special-education teacher in New York City; lettering by Alex Mannos, a graphic artist in Sacramento, California.  The coloring page is subject to a Creative Commons license as below.)