A top Trump Justice Department official issued an unusual, vague statement Thursday night, casting doubt on a series of recent media reports detailing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s growing probe into the Trump campaign for potential collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared to be taking issue with recent Washington Post and New York Times stories that President Donald Trump himself is now the subject of an obstruction of justice probe, as well as a separate new report from the Post that Mueller is looking into White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s finances.
Rosenstein’s statement, though, mentioned none of the reports specifically. Instead, he criticized articles that were attributed to unnamed officials.
“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated,” Rosenstein said. “Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”
Rosenstein’s statement caught many in Washington off guard, in part because it was so generic and didn’t actually specify which news reports it was addressing. It’s also notable because of who issued it: With Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused from all things related to the Russia probe, Rosenstein as the No. 2 DOJ official has the reins over the Mueller probe. He’ll get Mueller’s budget and he also has the power to block major investigative steps — with the caveat he must report to Congress if that happens.
Mueller’s office declined to comment on the Post and Times reports over the last 24 hours, but spokesman Peter Carr also weighed in on the recent leaks that have caused consternation in Trump’s White House.
“The special counsel’s office has undertaken stringent controls to prohibit unauthorized disclosures that deal severely with any member who engages in this conduct," he said.
Thursday’s Post story, citing “officials familiar with the matter,” said Mueller’s probe was looking at Kushner’s real estate company, as well as the Trump aide’s meetings with Russian officials. It also quoted Kushner attorney Jamie Gorelick, who called it “standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia.”
Both the Post and the Times on Wednesday reported Mueller was examining Trump for obstruction of justice over last month’s firing of James Comey — something the former FBI director himself testified was an issue squarely in the special counsel’s court.
“What was the big story?” said William Jeffress, a white collar defense attorney who represented I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA leak investigation. “Everybody always knew he was going to investigate obstruction. I don’t get what the big news is here.”
Trump also lashed out at the media reports Thursday.
“They made up a phone collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” the president tweeted.