Senator Dick Durbin
Senate Judiciary Committee Markup
Rod Rosenstein to be Deputy Attorney General
April 3, 2017
I would like to address the nomination of Rod Rosenstein to be Deputy Attorney General.
I will support reporting Mr. Rosenstein’s nomination from the Committee, but I am reserving judgment on how I will vote on the floor.
Mr. Rosenstein has a good reputation as the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, serving under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
I was troubled that, up until his hearing, he had not read the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia’s interference in our election. But he promptly responded to my March 13 letter and confirmed that he has now read the report and that he had “no reason to doubt the intelligence community’s assessment.”
At my request, he also clarified and confirmed that Attorney General Sessions is recused from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States” and any matters involving “Russian contacts with the Trump transition team and administration.”
If confirmed, Mr. Rosenstein will bear responsibility for the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s act of cyber war against our nation. It will be incumbent on him to ensure that this investigation is conducted with diligence and integrity. I believe appointing a special counsel is the best way to ensure this will happen. I hope he will do so. This investigation is too important to get wrong.
If confirmed, Mr. Rosenstein will also be responsible for overseeing the Justice Department’s criminal justice efforts. I’m very concerned that the Department’s new leadership might end the Smart on Crime Initiative, which directs federal prosecutors to reserve stiff mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders, as opposed to low-level nonviolent drug offenders. We need to pass legislation to reform our drug sentencing laws, but in the meantime this Initiative has been very effective in focusing the Department’s limited resources on the worst offenders.
When I met with Mr. Rosenstein, he assured me that if he is confirmed he will review the Department’s drug charging policies, including the Smart on Crime Initiative, and reserve judgment until then. However, it appears that decisions about these policies are already being made and that dramatic changes are in motion. In a public memo to all federal prosecutors last month, Attorney General Sessions said that new charging policies would be issued shortly.
And now we have learned that before Mr. Rosenstein has even been confirmed, Steven Cook, the former President of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, has been tapped as the Deputy Attorney General’s top deputy on criminal justice policy. Here’s what the media report says: “Meet the Hardliner Jeff Sessions Picked to Carry Out His Violent Crime Crackdown. Steve Cook, a former federal prosecutor, fiercely supports controversial policies calling for lengthy prison sentences.” Members of this Committee will remember Mr. Cook from his 2015 testimony stridently opposing the Chairman’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
Was Mr. Rosenstein consulted on the appointment of Mr. Cook? Has a decision already been made to change the Justice Department’s policy on charging nonviolent drug offenses? I will be seeking more clarity on these questions before I vote on Mr. Rosenstein’s nomination on the floor.