Rosenstein Assails Obama Administration, Comey and Journalists in Defending Handling of Russia Inquiry

Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, attacked the Obama administration, former law enforcement officials, the press and his own critics in a fiery speech on Thursday night that he used to defend his handling of the Russia investigation.

Mr. Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel to take over the inquiry after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director in May 2017, sought to separate himself from the consequential decisions made about the inquiry before he oversaw it. He blamed the previous administration for doing too little to publicize Russia’s campaign to sabotage the 2016 election while it was underway, and he called out the F.B.I. and Congress for leaks about the case.

“The previous administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to a broader strategy to undermine America,” Mr. Rosenstein said. He left unmentioned that Republican congressional leaders urged former President Barack Obama to keep quiet about the Kremlin’s operation during the presidential race.

During dinner remarks where he was honored at the Yale Club in Manhattan, Mr. Rosenstein also noted that the F.B.I. had disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to lawmakers and that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey early in 2017 to end an investigation into his national security adviser at the time, Michael T. Flynn.

“Then the former F.B.I. director alleged that the president pressured him to close the investigation, and the president denied that that conversation occurred,” Mr. Rosenstein said. He went beyond the account of Mr. Comey — who has said the president asked him only to end the Flynn inquiry, not the entire Russia investigation — and would not say who was telling the truth. The special counsel’s report cited Mr. Comey as a credible witness in the matter.

“So that happened,” Mr. Rosenstein added.

He commended the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for conducting a thorough investigation into Russia’s 2016 meddling, joking darkly about the attacks he endured for appointing Mr. Mueller.

“Today, our nation is safer, elections are more secure, and citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence schemes,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “But not everybody was happy with my decision, in case you did not notice.”

That was one of several barbs that Mr. Rosenstein delivered in his first public response to a variety of professional and personal critiques that he has weathered since Mr….

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