Embattled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a Washington audience Sunday that President Donald Trump’s words after last year’s deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville represented a message of unity that needed to be heard during a divisive period in American history.
Following the murder of a counterprotester by a white nationalist, Trump said, “You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. …“You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
“President Trump recognized last August that no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag and we are all made by the same almighty God,” Rosenstein said at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual leadership summit.
Rosenstein used his platform to affirm the Justice Department’s commitment to fighting bigotry and upholding the rule of law. He praised Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the department’s accomplishments in prosecuting hate crimes in 2017.
Rosenstein said Trump’s call for more tolerance after the Charlottesville rally resembled President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address. In that speech, the 16th president urged unity despite bitter divisions between the North and the South over slavery.
“Lincoln insisted his opponents were not enemies, because we were all Americans.” Rosenstein said. “He concluded his inaugural address by appealing to the better angels of our nature. President Trump echoed that statement with his remarks last summer of ‘we must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.’”
Rosenstein said the Justice Department convicted 22 individuals charged with hate crimes in 2017, and reminded the audience that the department indicted 19-year-old Michael Kadar, an American Israeli, this year for making bomb threats to Jewish institutions across the United States in 2016 and 2017. He also praised the ADL for training 15,000 law enforcement officers on how to handle hate incidents.
“When victims are attacked because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, there are laws that empower [the Justice Department] to respond,” he said. “Enforcing those laws is important to President Trump and Attorney General Sessions.”
Rosenstein said prosecuting hate crimes is important to uphold the rule of law — which he said is the central lesson of the Holocaust.
“We study the Holocaust not only to understand the depths of depravity, but also as a reminder to guard against those risks of corruption in our own times,” he said.
There has been speculation whether Trump will fire Rosenstein for his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Last week, Rosenstein said that he had received threats “both publicly and privately” for “quite some time,” and that the Justice Department “would not be extorted.”
If Rosenstein is fired, his fate would be the same as former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired last May, the day after Comey had given the keynote address at the ADL summit, where he had praised the organization for its commitment to tracking hate crimes, and vowed that he would do everything he could to ensure his department would investigate them.