Law & the Courts

America Owes Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein a Debt of Thanks

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stand for the pledge of allegiance at a summit about combating human trafficking in Washington, D.C. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
The contrast between Obama’s Department of Justice and Trump’s is stark and profound.

We live in an era when political role models are hard to find, integrity is at a premium, and it’s exceedingly difficult to find people or institutions who seem willing to put country over party, to set aside the powerful pull of tribalism and self-interest and fulfill their oaths of office. In the aftermath of yet another dramatic week in Washington, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are two men in the Trump administration who are doing all that reasonable men and women could ask to both carry out the lawful agenda of the president and fulfill their ultimate duty to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Those two men are Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Let’s consider the events of just the past two weeks. After withering left-wing criticism of Session’s decision to fire former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, an inspector general’s report emerged that vindicated the attorney general. Yes, McCabe did lie — and he lied repeatedly — about leaking to a Wall Street Journal reporter during the closing days of the 2016 presidential election. McCabe deserved to be fired. He may even deserve to be prosecuted.

This vindication came days after Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein reportedly approved an FBI raid on the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The Cohen raid was said to have resulted from a referral by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who uncovered evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing connected to Cohen’s payouts to a Playboy playmate and a porn star who claim to have had affairs with Trump. As Trump reacted furiously, the Washington Post reported that Sessions told White House counsel Donald McGahn that he might resign if Trump fired Rosenstein — a principled stand that is exactly right for a political appointee. Sessions serves at the pleasure of the president, but he can leave whenever he so chooses, and if the demands of the job conflict with the oath of office and/or the dictates of his conscience, he should leave.

It’s fashionable for progressives to mock members of the Trump administration, to label them ‘cowardly’ or ‘complicit’ in the administration’s wrongdoing. But that is an utterly unfair assessment of the Trump Department of Justice.

The role played by Sessions and Rosenstein in these recent events is of a piece with their conduct throughout the Trump presidency. It’s fashionable for progressives to mock members of the Trump administration, to label them “cowardly” or “complicit” in the administration’s wrongdoing. But that is an utterly unfair assessment of the Trump Department of Justice.

Jeff Sessions properly and prudently recused himself from the Russia investigation. Rod Rosenstein properly and prudently appointed a special counsel after Trump fired FBI director James Comey and misled America about the reasons.

In fact, the Trump DOJ has even produced not one, but two damning assessments indicating that the FBI took improper actions during the 2016 campaign that hurt Hillary Clinton — thus directly contradicting the favored GOP “deep state” narrative that imagines an entire federal law-enforcement bureaucracy united against Trump in 2016.

Moreover, these actions take place against a backdrop of Sessions’s original, unwavering support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He was the first serious Republican to jump on the Trump Train, and he never jumped off. He may thus be the only member of the GOP establishment with sufficient credibility among all wings of the party to pursue Trump’s policy agenda while also upholding the rule of law and protecting public confidence in the administration of justice.

Sessions and Rosenstein look even better in comparison with their immediate predecessors in the Obama Department of Justice. Contrast Sessions’s clear recusal from the Russia investigation with Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch’s kinda-sorta-not-really recusal from the Clinton email investigation after her clearly improper tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, her insistence that the FBI downplay the Hillary email investigation, and a senior Department of Justice official’s clear admonition to Andrew McCabe to not take any “overt steps” to pursue the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign.

Let’s not forget that while Rosenstein had the foresight to appoint a man such as Robert Mueller — a person with a sterling reputation on both sides of the aisle — to investigate potential Russian connections to the Trump campaign, the Obama DOJ chose a campaign donor to run the Tea Party–targeting investigation, one of the most politically sensitive investigations of Obama’s entire presidency.

Sadly, there are some (including, apparently, the president of the United States) who compare and contrast the Lynch/Holder DOJ and the Sessions DOJ and conclude that Sessions is in the wrong, that he should be more loyal and “fight fire with fire.” This view is dangerously misguided. Writing Monday in USA Today, former Sessions staffer Cameron Smith and former Obama ethics czar Norman Eisen rightly laud Sessions and conclude with the key point: “When our personal viewpoints clash, the dispassionate enforcement of our laws steadies our republic.”

Exactly so. There are many months to go before the relevant Russia and Cohen investigations conclude, but if past performance is a predictor of future results, then there’s reason to have confidence that the rule of law will prevail, and the political chips will fall where they may.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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