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Opinion

Column: Count Rod Rosenstein, the guy who tapped Robert Mueller, among Trump’s toadies. Sad!

William Barr, Rod Rosenstein
Atty. Gen William Barr speaks alongside then-Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein at the April news conference in which Barr concluded that Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of President Trump.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general once known for setting the Trump-Russia investigation in motion, retired in May. After a long career as a public servant, he wanted to spend more time with Twitter.

A good man’s failing. But though Rosenstein’s bio quotes Thomas Jefferson — “It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor” — he doesn’t seem very vigorous. He’s tetchy. Tetchy in defense of himself, Atty. Gen. William Barr and President Trump.

Why didn’t the pensioner Rosenstein take a breather, join a book group, maybe do some journaling?

Instead he has opted, to the surprise of former apologists, to play the goat, defending Trump’s rogue administration in a strategy that has almost invariably ended badly. (See: Michael Cohen, inmate No. 86067-054 at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution.)

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Somewhere in there must be the Rosenstein who appointed Robert S. Mueller III to lead the probe that turned up evidence of gross misconduct by the president and yielded 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas and five prison sentences. Somewhere in there must be the Rosenstein who protected the Russia investigation from the president’s numberless efforts to capsize it.

But the Rosenstein who shows up on Twitter is the accomplice who stood behind Barr on April 18, immobile and glassy-eyed as Barr extravagantly lied about Mueller’s findings.

In that moment, Rosenstein forfeited his legacy. He now deserves to be known as an obstructor of justice and not an avatar of it.

And he seems to know it.

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In short order, his tweets have become a punctilious, prickly and mean-spirited, as if he had something to prove, decisions to justify, a guilty conscience. His online persona stands in counterpoint to James B. Comey, the former FBI director, whose Twitter game is characterized by middlebrow sanctimony.

And it’s Comey who’s one of the tweeters in Rosenstein’s sights. Last week, a controversial report by the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that, in 2017, Comey mishandled memos about his interactions with the president, violating FBI protocols. Trump, shocker, crowed that Comey “should be ashamed.”

But then Rosenstein jumped right in, playing Smithers from “The Simpsons” to the president’s Mr. Burns.

He broadsided Comey, tsk-tsking about “established” procedures and linking to a 2018 letter he’d written to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in which he attacked Comey for what he saw as other protocol breaches.

What a prig.

But, for those who clicked the link, the letter was even worse. Rosenstein, while talking about Comey’s alleged sins in 2017, managed to dilate for half a dozen paragraphs on Hillary Clinton, Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate and what he delicately called “the Lewinsky Matter.” He even dug up, obliquely, the decades-old suicide of a Clinton friend that has been invoked ad nauseam by pinwheel-eyed conspiracy mongers.

He’s Twitter’s own Uriah Heep, insisting he’s nothing but a humble servant of justice, all while hitting Trump’s enemies with the chops-licking gusto of a partisan hack.

And his bad faith is showing.

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For one, he’s still tweeting in petulant defense of the failure of Barr to indict Trumpworld on obstruction, proclaiming that charges are only ever brought “if credible witnesses and admissible evidence make it likely that an unbiased judge and 100% of jurors will agree beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Many legal analysts have laid to waste that interpretation of protocol, but there’s another question worth asking, why is Rosenstein so nervous, unless Barr’s decision to utterly ignore the White House’s obstruction crimes is still eating him?

And then there are his cheers for the Justice Department inspector general’s report on Comey. With those huzzahs, Rosenstein joins the dismal ranks of Trumpite hacks Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) who have thrown in with what the analyst Matt Miller called “perhaps the stupidest investigation the IG has ever done and one of its dumber conclusions.” To censure Comey for sharing a memo about a dangerous president is to miss a galaxy-sized forest for a few twigs.

Former FBI agent and cut-the-crap CNN analyst Asha Rangappa has a theory (Rosenstein’s agitated “why prosecutors prosecute” proclamation came in a Twitter response to her).

“When Rod is around stronger people with a clear moral compass, like Mueller, he’ll defer,” she tweeted, “and this ends up being a good thing. But when he ends up around people who are deceptive and corrupt, like Barr, he’ll defer to them too. Basically, he’s a walking piece of Jell-o.”

Rangappa has Rosenstein’s number.

And, sure, the people he apparently wants to be around now — Trump and Barr — are in power now, but odds are they won’t be too much longer. If Rosenstein is looking toward the future, he’d be right to worry that the history of the Trump-Russia affair will be written not by those in a defensive crouch, but by the fearless and high-minded. Someone — Rangappa maybe? — with zero tolerance for equivocation, the miscarriage of justice and hypocrisy among all the president’s men.

Twitter: @page88

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