With polls showing Donald Trump’s fascism losing its appeal, the chances are improving that we may soon find ourselves able to refer to the epic disaster of the Trump presidency in the past tense. When we do, we will point to Trump’s heart-wrenching child separation policy as ranking among the most depraved horrors of his morally bankrupt administration. Now, it turns out that horror has an additional villain: former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
According to new information obtained by the Guardian, Rosenstein “privately shocked” border-state U.S. attorneys in a May 2018 conference call when he issued guidance on Trump’s and former Attorney General Jeff Session’s policy requiring all migrants crossing the Mexican border to face criminal prosecution. Rosenstein cautioned prosecutors that there would be no ban on prosecuting migrant parents with children under five years old.
Rosenstein’s direction reportedly came after one U.S. attorney in Texas questioned the policy, saying he declined to prosecute such cases. When prosecutors then expressed concern that babies and toddlers would not know their own names and their parents’ names and could get lost in the system, Rosenstein was apparently unfazed. Yet, in just a six-week period surrounding the call, the policy reportedly orphaned 2,814 from their parents in just a six-week period, including about 105 under the age of five and 1,033 under 10.
The closest resemblance to humanity that Rosenstein uttered on that call was still shamefully inadequate. When prosecutors asked about situations where a family speaks indigenous languages (and cannot communicate in English or Spanish) or have children under five with intellectual disabilities, Rosenstein suggested that prosecutors could potentially decline those cases but only on a case-by-case basis. Wow, what a Santa Claus!
Rosenstein, who is now enjoying a career in BigLaw, predictably responded to the Guardian’s reporting in legalese. In a written statement, Rosenstein casually shifted all blame for child separation away from prosecutors while defending the policy as “unambiguous,” as if a policy’s clarity or consistency makes it right on every level.
For a while, Rosenstein’s reputation was tied to his protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He quickly shattered that reputation when he stood beside Attorney General Bill Barr as he gaslit the nation about the Mueller report. This farce followed a speech Rosenstein gave quoting Trump, of all people, on the sanctity of the rule of law.
Although too little, too late, the newly revealed details about Rosenstein’s conference call are being considered by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General in a review of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. As we inch closer to the election and strive to move beyond this cruel administration, we should expect more details about individual roles in past Trump horrors to surface. However, we already know that Rosenstein is just one of many spineless people in government who failed us for lacking the courage to stand up to Trump. This is how tyrants succeed.