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Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein talks rule of law — not Robert Mueller — in Chicago

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attends the Religious Liberty Summit at the Department of Justice July 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (File Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came to Chicago on Thursday to address the nation’s leading organization of lawyers, but made no mention of the firestorm he is facing in Washington as he stressed the importance of being governed by laws not “by the whim of any person.”

Rosenstein made only thinly veiled references to the political situation in Washington during the keynote speech about the rule, or supremacy, of the law at the American Bar Association’s annual conference.

“The goal is to be governed by the law — by a system of clear rules and neutral processes — not by the whim of any person,” Rosenstein said.

“The Department of Justice, in which I serve, must never be a partisan actor. In all cases, agents and prosecutors are obligated to make neutral decisions, preserve personal privacy, protect national security, and insulate investigations from political interference.”

The topic of the speech was an interesting one in light of tweets from President Donald Trump attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, leading to Rosenstein’s appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to handle the probe as special counsel.

That investigation focuses in part on whether or not members of Trump’s presidential campaign, including the president, colluded with the Russian government.

Trump has fired off tweets blasting the “Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt,” and calling on Sessions to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted.”

And Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation, has found himself in the cross hairs.

A group of 11 conservative House Republicans led by a Trump loyalist have filed articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, contending he has not been forthcoming in providing lawmakers with documents relating to the probe. But they have conceded they most likely don’t have the votes to proceed with the impeachment.

On Thursday, Rosenstein said his boss, Sessions, has emphasized 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,’” regardless of any backlash they may face for doing their jobs.

“Our decisions do not please all the people all the time, in case you haven’t noticed,” Rosenstein said with a laugh. “But they 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.”

Rosenstein also took three pre-selected questions from Hilarie Bass, president of the American Bar Association, on countries meddling in American elections, the administration’s prosecutorial discretion as it relates to their zero tolerance immigration policy and the use of safe injection sites which some say could help with the opioid crisis, a stance he doesn’t support because of potential consequences, he said.

In terms of cyber warfare and election meddling, Rosenstein said it was a “significant threat,” but “informing people is an important form of deterrence.”

On the administration’s zero tolerance policy, Rosenstein said there has been a 200 percent increase year over year in the number of people crossing the country’s southern border, prompting the department’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy.

“The broader challenge we face is that large numbers of people are blatantly violating immigration laws,” Rosenstein said. “This is a very generous country — most of us are descendants of immigrants and we accept immigrants from many places for many reasons — but we have rules, we have laws …”