WASHINGTON (AP) — The man who long oversaw special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation said Monday that it is not always appropriate for the government to be transparent about its work as he cautioned against leveling public allegations against people who are not prosecuted.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s comments at an event Monday come as Mueller’s Russia probe winds down and as there is debate about what information should be made public at the end, particularly about individuals who were investigated but not charged.
Rosenstein did not discuss Mueller’s investigation in detail and did not suggest that his comments about transparency were about the probe. But he made several remarks that could be interpreted as trying to manage expectations that the Justice Department might not disclose as much about the investigation as Democrats in Congress and many in the public might want.
“There’s a knee-jerk reaction to suggest we should be transparent about we do in government,” Rosenstein said. “But there are a lot of reasons not to be transparent about what we do in government.”
Rosenstein was responsible for Mueller’s appointment in May 2017 and has overseen much of his day-to-day work since then. He is expected to step down next month, and his speech Monday on the rule of law at the Center for Strategic and International Studies might be one of his last public appearances before his departure.
At other points in his speech, and in a question-and-answer session that followed, Rosenstein appeared to allude to the Justice Department’s protocol of not disclosing negative information about people it does not have enough evidence to charge or that it decides against prosecuting.
Democrats have pressed for the release of as much information as possible about Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, including about President Donald Trump himself. Justice Department legal opinions argue that a sitting president cannot be indicted, suggesting prosecutors cannot pursue charges against Trump even if they uncover wrongdoing.
“The guidance I always gave my prosecutors and the agents I worked with during my tenure on the front lines of law enforcement were if we aren’t prepared to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court,” Rosenstein said, “then we have no business making allegations against American citizens.”
Rosenstein’s comments stand in contrast to congressional Democrats who are aggressively pushing the idea that Mueller’s full report, plus the underlying documents, should be made public. The Democrats are pointing to documents that Justice Department officials provided to Congress in the wake of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, as well as information that Republicans demanded last year as part of their inquiries about decisions made by the department during the 2016 elections. The documents provided to Congress included sensitive, sometimes classified information that had traditionally been kept under wraps after closed investigations or during ongoing investigations.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that he told department officials after they released information related to the Clinton investigation that “this was a new precedent they were setting and they were going to have to live by this precedent whether it was a Congress controlled by the Democrats or Republicans.”
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.