Rosenstein defends Russia investigation handling

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein mounted an extensive defense of the tumultuous early days of his tenure and his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel.
8:22 | 05/14/19

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Transcript for Rosenstein defends Russia investigation handling
FBI director had announced at a public hearing. But there was a counterintelligence investigation involving the president's campaign that might result in criminal charges. And he was fired abruptly. Confusing explanations were provided. And troubling allegations were linked. As a result critics were arguing that the FBI directors removal. Was part of an effort to derail the investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. I it was responsible. For that investigation. I was overseeing it I knew from my briefings with the agents and prosecutors. That it was a very important investigation. If it was not done correctly. There would always be lingering doubts about the scope of Russian efforts. And about the extent of American involved. I would never have allowed anyway. To interfere with an investigation I'd been in the Department of Justice for over a quarter century. Although I was relatively new to the job I knew how to manage criminal investigations. The special counsel's report states that the president's counsel advised me on Monday afternoon. That the president had decided to remove the director. It was news to me. Nobody said the removal was intended influence. The course of the investigation. Later on Monday the president showed me a letter detailing his reasons. And he told me to deliver a memorandum to the attorney general with my concerns. About the directors conduct the following morning. He did not tell me what reasons to put in my memo. Now the special counsel's report. States the president asked me to mention in my memo. That the FBI director had told him that he was not under investigation the same language that ultimately appeared in the president's public letter. I didn't included in my memo. Because number one I had no personal knowledge of what the directorate said of the president and number two in any event it was not relevant. To mine. That's important you to know that I did not dislike. The FBI director on the contrary. At the time I admired him personally. And I appreciated many of his accomplishments the FBI. Now would be the last one to condemn anyone. For a judgment call. These jobs are difficult they require choices that invite criticism. But while there are many issues in our line of work in which a range of decisions may be reasonable. There are bright lines. That should not be crossed. The clearest mistake was the director's decision. To hold a press conference about an open case. To reveal his personal recommendation. About the case. And to discuss details. About the investigation without the informed consent. Of the prosecutors and the attorney Jim because one of the fundamental principles. Federal law enforcement is that the agency investigate the cases and the prosecutorial decisions are made by federal prosecutors and by politically accountable officials. The Department of Justice. He's the director then chose to you send letter to congress on the eve of the election. Stating that one of the presidential candidates was under criminal investigation. Expecting that letter to be released immediately. To the public. Of those actions and not you were not. Within the realm of reasonable decisions. They were inconsistent with our vote. Of communicating all FBI employees that they should respect the rule of the attorney general of the United States. The patient refrain from disclosing information. About criminal investigations. They should avoid disparaging and charge persons and above all. They should never take any necessary steps that could be perceived to influence an election. But the director doubled down in his congressional testimony in essence. He said that he would do it again if he had the chance. Now I have been asked to make a recommendation for the removal decision was made. I wouldn't included a more balanced analysis. Of the pros and cons. But my brief memo to the attorney general was correct. And it was reasonable under the circumstances. If I had been the decision maker the removal would have been handled differently. With far more respect. And far less trauma. So what are not blame the former director for being angry I would need to do if irony issues. But now the former director seems to be acting as a partisan pundit selling books. And earnings speaking fees while speculating. About the strength of my character. And the fate of my immortal soul. I kid you not. That is disappointing. Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally we dates are opinions on eyewitness testimony. In any event. I agree with the then acting FBI director. Who testified that the firing would not impact investigation. On the other hand I recognize that this unusual circumstances firing. In the ensuing developments. Would give reasonable people cause to speculate about the credibility of Mumbai investigation. Those circumstances are publicly known. Also new. Based on briefings that I received from agents and prosecutors. That are now public as a result. Indictments to be returned and information in the public report. I knew that there was overwhelming evidence. That Russian operatives hacked American computers and defrauded American citizens. And it was part of a comprehensive. Russian strategy. To influence elections promotes social discord and undermine America just as they do in other countries. And people with connections to the presidential campaign. Were under FBI investigation in relation to you there connections to Russian agents. Not the time these were allegations they were lucky it's what we call critic Haitian. Nobody had been convicted of crime nobody even charged with a crime based upon what I knew. It may. When he seventeen. Investigation of Russian election interference was justified. The Department of Justice inspector general. Is reviewing aspects of the counterintelligence investigation before I left the office actually about a year ago lie. Participated in ensuring that there would be a full and thorough investigation. If the inspector general finds significant new facts. I would reconsider my opinion. I to base my opinion on credible evidence. That is what makes the Department of Justice special. In America. Now the president selected me for the job deputy attorney general the senate approved my nomination. And I took an oath. The well and faithfully execute the duties of the office. As the leader the Department of Justice that acting leader for purpose of that case that oath gave me a legal obligation to make and nonpartisan law enforcement decision. Without regard. To political considerations. I determined. That I needed a special counsel to help resolve the election interference investigation in a way that would best protect. America from foreign adversaries. And that would preserve. Public confidence. In the long. And that some people would be happy about it. I knew there would be unpleasant for me and my family. That my confirmation hearing. I promised I would conduct the investigation properly. And see it through to the appropriate conclusion. In my line of work you keep promises. And in my line of work the appropriate conclusion is the result. When you follow the process. And you completed independent investigation. You are not out to get anyone. You're just out to follow the facts. Wherever they made.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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