Just two days after formally stepping aside as Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein delivered a commencement address Monday at the University of Baltimore School of Law quoting Robert Mueller and urging graduates to stick to "principles" even when they find themselves "standing alone."
Rosenstein, who oversaw Mueller's Russia investigation and drew bipartisan fire -- at one point, House Republicans introduced articles of impeachment against him -- specifically pointed graduates to Mueller's comments at the College of William & Mary in 2013.
"You will face pressure to compromise on things that matter most, perhaps even to trade virtue for the appearance of virtue," Rosenstein said. "But, you should exercise caution when uncomfortable circumstances tempt you to disregard principles."
He continued: "As Robert Mueller once said, 'There may come a time when you will be tested. You may find yourself standing alone, against those you thought were trusted colleagues. You may stand to lose all that you have worked for, and it may not be an easy call.'"
Mueller was hardly the only notable figure Rosenstein opted to cite. His speech also included quotes from and references to Abraham Lincoln ("Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American"), William Shakespeare ("Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends"), and author Robert Fulghum ("The lesson is that with proper care, the roots will grow broad and deep, and the plant will grow tall and strong.")
Rosenstein, 54, also offered a rare window into his personal life -- and the stresses his job placed on his family.
"Before I went to Washington in 2017, my daughter asked whether I would get my picture in the newspaper," Rosenstein said. "I said no. I told her that 'deputy attorney general' is a low-profile job. Nobody knows the deputy attorney general."
Rosenstein added: "I realize that the modern media often seems to foster incivility, but lawyers have a special responsibility to practice and promote civility. The fundamental purpose of law is to provide a peaceful means to resolve disagreements, so if civility seems to be lacking in public life, that is all the more reason for lawyers to step into the breach."
In previous remarks late last month, while he was still deputy attorney general, Rosenstein lamented what he called the difficulty of his position, and suggested he had done the best he could under the circumstances.
"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," Rosenstein said at the Armenian Bar Association’s Public Servants Dinner.
"The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media," Rosenstein continued. "The FBI director announced at a congressional hearing that there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges. Then, the former FBI director alleged that the president pressured him to close the investigation, and the president denied that the conversation occurred. So, that happened."
Rosenstein compared his tenure to "the story about firefighters who found a man on a burning bed. When they asked how the fire started, he replied, 'I don’t know. It was on fire when I lay down on it.'"
Attorney General Bill Barr last Friday said he named Ed O’Callaghan to temporarily serve as acting deputy attorney general in the wake of Rosenstein’s departure from the Justice Department.
Congressional Republicans have accused Rosenstein of intentionally withholding documents and information from Congress, failure to comply with congressional subpoenas and abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
A DOJ watchdog review of the department's FISA practices, among other issues, is expected to be completed within weeks.
On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., promised in an interview that Americans will soon hear from Mueller directly, saying the special counsel "is going to testify."