Despite unrelenting criticism from the White House on the course of the investigation into Russia's election interference, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offered unqualified support for special counsel Robert Mueller.
"The special counsel is not an unguided missile," Rosenstein said in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY. "I don't believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel."
Rosenstein's remarks are among the first to address Mueller's status since it was disclosed more than a month ago that President Trump sought to have the special counsel dismissed last summer. The president relented only when White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign if forced to carry out the directive.
The deputy attorney general, who is tasked with overseeing the special counsel, appointed Mueller last May to run the wide-ranging investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself because of his prior contacts with Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Appearing upbeat and at ease in his fourth-floor office, Rosenstein said oversight of the inquiry requires only "a fraction" of his daily work. He estimated that less than 5% of his week is related to briefings or other matters involving Mueller's investigation.
He dismissed the near-constant and pointed criticism aimed at the Justice Department from the White House and from an ultra-conservative Tea Party Patriots group. The group has run an ugly ad campaign, describing Rosenstein as "a weak careerist" and suggesting that he tender his own resignation.
"I believe much of the criticism will fall by the wayside when people reflect on this era and the Department of Justice," said Rosenstein, who did not refer to Trump directly. "I'm very confident that when the history of this era is written, it will reflect that the department was operated with integrity."
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