Rod Rosenstein, the second-in-command at the Department of Justice, recently told reporters who gathered for a press conference on a "major development" in the fentanyl epidemic, "These cases reflect a new and disturbing facet of the opioid crisis in America," said Rosenstein.
However, what got the attention of DOJ veterans at the press conference was something different according to NPR.
Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Trump, had ventured down Pennsylvania Avenue and past Justice Department security to hear the announcement in person.
It's unusual for a White House adviser to appear at a news conference about an enforcement matter. And for Trump administration critics in Congress and out, it's yet another example of how the administration is refusing to respect the independence of the Justice Department.
"Although we've had attorneys general who view their job as serving the president and as an extension of the White House, I do not believe that's the job of the attorney general," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a hearing last week, one day after the fentanyl event. "The attorney general's master is the people and the law."
Matthew Miller, who led the Justice Department's public affairs office during the tenure of President Barack Obama's long-serving attorney general, Eric Holder, said he could not recall a time when an Obama White House official traveled to the Justice Department to hear an enforcement announcement that was being livestreamed online.
"It sends a message that these law enforcement activities are coordinated, directed by the White House," Miller said. "It's an appearance thing."
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