Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Rosenstein on civil liberties, confidence in law enforcement

Deputy Attorney General-designate, federal prosecutor Rod Rosenstein, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rod Rosenstein, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington in March to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The U.S. Senate confirmed Rod J. Rosenstein last month to the No. 2 position at the Department of Justice after senators were not too successful in prying information out of the former U.S. attorney for Maryland during his confirmation hearing.

But a decade ago, Rosenstein opened up to Baltimore lawyer Paul Mark Sandler in an interview that ran over three of Sandler’s “Raising the Bar” columns. (Subscribers can read two of the columns from links here.)

Rosenstein says his greatest challenge is setting the right priorities, with his top priority being to prevent a “terrorist attack.”

When Sandler asks about balancing anti-terrorism efforts with civil liberties, Rosenstein replies in part:

From my perspective as U.S. Attorney, and having worked with the prosecutors and law enforcement agents who are investigating terrorism here in Maryland, I don’t think that our response to terrorism has undermined the civil liberties of Americans. I think that law enforcement agencies are being very responsible in the way that they’re gathering information, and I don’t think they’re abusing the information that they’ve gathered. That being said, civil liberties are not just about the reality of being persecuted. They’re about the perception of being persecuted. I think we have to be sensitive to the fact that when people believe that the government is, for example, collecting information from libraries or intercepting telephone calls, they fear that their civil liberties are at risk, and I think it’s our responsibility to do what we can to reassure people that we are using those powers responsibly.

Sandler also asked about the firings of seven U.S. attorneys across the country in what many believed was a politically motivated move by the Bush administration. (The DOJ ultimately determined the firings might have been political but were not criminal in nature.)

Said Rosenstein:

I think that promoting public confidence in law enforcement is one of our most important obligations. It’s something that we, as employees of the Justice Department, should be thinking about in everything that we do. The American public is not able to judge our motives. They don’t know what we’re thinking. They can only observe what we say and do and draw inferences from that.

So when information comes to light that gives people reason to be suspicious about the motives of the Justice Department, then you inevitably have the kind of speculation that we’ve had recently. It casts a shadow on all of our work. That is damaging.

I think it is important to recognize that it’s not just damaging to this administration. It’s damaging to the government and the people because our Justice Department has been really a shining light for the entire world, when you think about it. Federal courts and federal law enforcement in the United States are integral to American democracy and the promise of equal justice under the rule of law. If people’s confidence in that is shaken, it’s really damaging to everybody.

Rosenstein also acknowledged that every administration is going to be accused of “impropriety in law enforcement” but pledged his office would remain above the political fray.

I can assure you that federal law enforcement in Maryland during my time here has not been infected by any kind of partisanship, that everything we do is based upon a careful analysis of the issues by nonpartisan prosecutors and investigators, and that decisions are made based on the merits.