Rod Rosenstein's resignation letter includes some weird compliments to Trump

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a deeply controversial and long-embattled figure in the Trump administration, has officially resigned, a letter made public Monday showed.


Rosenstein told President Donald Trump that his resignation will be effective May 11. His letter contained an odd paragraph in which Rosenstein seemed to bend over backward to compliment Trump:

The median tenure of a Deputy Attorney General is 16 months, and few serve longer than two years. As I submit my resignation effective on May 11, I am grateful to you for the opportunity to serve; for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal interactions: and for the goals you set in your inaugural address patriotism, unity, safety. education. and prosperity, because “a nation exists to serve its citizens.” The Department of Justice pursues those goals while operating in accordance with the rule of law. The rule of law is the foundation of America. It cures our freedom. allows our citizens to flourish, and enables our nation to serve as a model of liberty and justice for all.

It's odd to thank the president, and your boss, for showing "courtesy" — even more so when that president has famously attacked you and said you belong in jail. Rosenstein drew Trump's ire for appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and while it long seemed as though the president wanted to fire the deputy attorney general for this decision, he clearly feared the backlash he would face from Congress if he did so.

Rosenstein clearly knew that he would irritate the president and generate negative press if he didn't say anything nice about Trump in his letter. But given the attacks he endured, the deputy attorney general appears to have concluded he couldn't honestly praise Trump's leadership or devotion to the rule of law. So instead, he thanks him for the "goals" in his inaugural address — which undoubtedly wasn't even written by Trump himself. It's a rather thin fig leaf of a compliment to throw at Trump, but perhaps it will do the work he needed it to do.

According to a recent report from the Washington Post, Rosenstein had accepted at one point in his tenure that he was likely to be fired. But he was most concerned about how it would happen: “I can go. I’m ready to go. I can resign. But I don’t want to go out with a tweet."

This letter will probably achieve the goal of not being fired on Twitter. His emphasis on the length of the tenure of other deputy attorneys general also seems to demonstrate his deep concern with his reputation.

But it also reflects the pattern I argued last Friday was so troubling. In his attempts to appease Trump and conservative critics, it has often seemed that Rosenstein went against his better judgment. But at other times – most recently, in his defense of and coordination with Attorney General Bill Barr's deceptive and arguably corrupt handling of the Mueller report — it seemed he lacked that better judgment at all.

"I have some concerns," former FBI Director James Comey reportedly said of Rosenstein, after Comey's controversial firing in 2017. "He’s good, he’s solid, but he’s also a survivor and you don’t survive that long without making some compromises. And I’m concerned about that."

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