Rod Rosenstein Fails His Ethics Test
By DAVID LEONHARDT
May 10, 2017
"Rod Rosenstein prior to his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. Win McNamee/Getty Images
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Until two days ago, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had an enviable reputation as a straight-shooting law-enforcement official respected by members of both parties. Then he decided that he was willing to help President Trump tamper with an investigation into his presidential campaign.
Now Rosenstein’s reputation is permanently damaged, as it deserves to be. In that damage is a lesson for other subordinates and allies of Trump.
When Rosenstein accepted his job at the Justice Department, many observers hoped he would be the adult who would moderate the excesses of Trump and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. But it is enormously difficult to resist pressure, persuasion and incentives from one’s bosses, especially when those bosses are running the country.
Rosenstein’s moral test arrived after just a couple of weeks on the job. He failed it, evidently without putting up much of a struggle.
He was willing to be “exactly the mouthpiece Trump needed,” as Slate’s Leon Neyfakh put it. Rosenstein wrote a memo that claimed James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, was fired for his handling of the Hillary Clinton inquiry that Trump and Sessions had once praised fulsomely. And Rosenstein, who was supervising the probe into the Trump campaign’s Russian ties, wrote the memo only a few days after Comey had come to him and requested more money for it, The Times reported.
Rosenstein has also enabled Sessions to violate his own recusal from that Russia investigation. Throughout the rushed process of firing Comey and looking for his replacement, Sessions has remained central — as if the Russia inquiry and Comey’s status were separate issues. The notion that Rosenstein is overseeing that investigation has become laughable.
I’ve said previously I hope that good people already working in the executive branch remain in their jobs and that smart, principled Republicans come to staff many jobs in the Trump administration. I still hope so.
But Rosenstein’s abandonment of the basic principles of ethical government should remind everyone of the risks of joining Team Trump. Once you do, avoiding Trumpian behavior becomes very hard. Adopting it starts to seem normal, even honorable.
Remember, though: There is no job, not even at the highest levels of government, that is worth your reputation.
As Peter Wehner, a longtime Republican aide, writes in today’s Times: “The Republicans who have so far stood in lock step with Mr. Trump, defending him at every turn, need to ask themselves whether they want to continue to be complicit in this institutional assault. By now it should be clear to them that having Donald Trump’s back will cost them their integrity.”