01:01 - Source: CNN
Rosenstein quotes Mueller in advice to graduating law students
Washington CNN  — 

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told graduating law students on Monday that they’ll “face pressure to compromise on things that matter most” in a commencement address that hinted at his rocky tenure at the Justice Department.

Rosenstein’s address was peppered with quotes from famous philosophers and presidents, and even special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who led the Russia investigation. Rosenstein oversaw Mueller’s work for almost his entire term as deputy attorney general.

He spoke at the University of Baltimore Law School about the challenges facing young lawyers and reflected on his 29-year career of government service at the Justice Department.

“We live in a messy, contentious democracy, and democracy is built on compromise,” he said.

Rosenstein continued, “You need to be prepared to compromise when you can do so without violating your principles. Of course, you will face pressure to compromise on things that matter most, perhaps even to trade virtue for the appearance of virtue. But you should exercise caution when circumstances tempt you to disregard principles.”

He then quoted Mueller, whose investigation was completed earlier this spring.

“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,’” Rosenstein told the crowd.

As lawyers, the graduates should hold tightly to their core principles, Rosenstein said, even if that means it might become “painful and costly.” That is why principles exist, he noted.

Rosenstein didn’t directly reference the Russia investigation or explain what he was alluding to regarding “compromises.” But while he was the No. 2 at the Justice Department, Rosenstein faced unique pressure from President Donald Trump, including personal attacks on Twitter.

The Mueller report describes how Rosenstein stared down the White House in May 2017, when officials wanted him to give a press conference defending the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein refused and told aides he wouldn’t help spread a “false story” about the firing. The White House falsely said Comey was fired based on Rosenstein’s recommendation.

In his commencement address, Rosenstein said the role of deputy attorney general “is one of those jobs where you frequently need to make decisions that leave someone aggrieved.” Nonetheless, Rosenstein joked that he didn’t expect it would turn out as controversial as it did.

“Before I went to Washington in 2017, my daughter asked whether I would get my picture in the newspaper,” he told the graduates. “I said no. I told her that deputy attorney general is a low-profile job. Nobody knows the deputy attorney general. I was mistaken about that.”

CNN’s Mary Kay Mallonee, Sam Fossum and Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.