James Trusty Quoted by the WSJ about Impact of the Current Political Climate on the Justice Department
Del Quentin Wilber and Aruna Viswanatha
Wall Street Journal
August 2, 2017
Justice Department Morale Is Unaffected After Trump Rebukes, Deputy AG Says
Rod Rosenstein defends priorities of increased immigration enforcement and targeting of violent crime and drug offenses
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said morale at the Justice Department
remains “pretty good,” despite concerns by current and former prosecutors that
President Donald Trump’s rebukes of the department’s leader are unsettling and have
made it harder to do their jobs.
Mr. Trump last week chastised Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “beleaguered” and
“very weak,” and he has expressed continued frustration with the attorney general’s
decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s interference
meddling in the 2016 campaign.
Mr. Rosenstein, who has also been a target of the president’s pointed remarks, said in an
interview with The Wall Street Journal that he would not “comment on any tweets” by
Mr. Trump. He also declined to address the president’s speech last week in which he
appeared to condone the rough treatment of suspects in police custody, a matter often
investigated by the Justice Department.
The acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is part of the
Justice Department, told agents in a weekend memo to ignore Mr. Trump’s comments
and “always act honorably.”
“I don’t think that anything that happens in the news media distracts our people from
doing their work on a daily basis,” Mr. Rosenstein said in the interview in which he
aggressively defended the Trump administration’s priorities of increased immigration
enforcement and more aggressive targeting of violent crime and drug offenses.
“The attorney general has made clear to me and to our colleagues in the department
that we are here to promote the agenda of the administration, we believe in the agenda,
and we are doing everything we can to advance that agenda,” Mr. Rosenstein said, adding
that the department wouldn’t permit politics to dictate prosecutorial decisions.
After several days of comments and tweets on Mr. Sessions, Mr. Trump, hasn’t criticized
the attorney general in the past several days. He has faced criticism for his comments
from both Republicans and Democrats, who have rallied in support of Mr. Sessions.
In interviews, some career prosecutors and former Justice Department officials said
they are apprehensive that Mr. Trump’s comments could make it seem as though the
department is a political agency. That, they said, could harm their ability to win guilty
verdicts and build the community ties that help reduce crime.
They also raised objections to Mr. Trump’s criticism of both Mr. Sessions’ recusal and
Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to tap Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, as special
Mr. Rosenstein declined to answer any questions related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation,
which among other things is examining whether Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with
the Russian government to interfere in the election.
The presidential criticism “creates an air of uncertainty at the Justice Department,”
said James Trusty, a top career federal prosecutor until leaving the department for
private practice in January. “People are not sure how long their attorney general is going
to stay in position, and that can be unsettling for career folks.”
A current high-ranking career prosecutor voiced concerns that Mr. Trump’s comments
could raise questions in the public’s mind about the department’s neutrality, which he
said could have ramifications for prosecutors in court.
“It is never good for the public to think you are becoming an arm of a very political
White House,” said the prosecutor, who requested anonymity to discuss the situation
openly. “Right now, we are dangerously on that line. What happens if people stop
trusting us to find the truth?”
But Mr. Rosenstein said the recent controversies haven’t undermined the department,
nor distracted him or Mr. Sessions from their work. Their days start with an early
morning meeting and they work closely throughout the day, Mr. Rosenstein said.
Among their top priorities is curtailing illegal immigration, and officials have
dispatched 11 more prosecutors to border areas to help handle immigration offenses and
have designated a federal prosecutor in each district to focus on immigration offenses.
The department is also in the process of hiring 75 immigration judges and threatening
to cut off funding to “sanctuary cities,” which have declined to help federal agents seize
undocumented aliens suspected of committing crimes.
The Justice Department has stepped up efforts to dismantle MS-13, a violent street gang
that is one of Mr. Trump’s favorite targets on Twitter and in speeches.
In addition, officials have directed prosecutors to step up efforts to combat violent
crime, gangs and the opioid crisis, and they have encouraged prosecutors to use
mandatory minimum penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, a tool the Obama
administration had curtailed.
“We want our prosecutors and our agents working cooperatively with local authorities
to target the most dangerous organizations in their communities,” Mr. Rosenstein said.
Write to Del Quentin Wilber at firstname.lastname@example.org and Aruna Viswanatha at