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Viewpoint: A Strange Warning

You could call the quote strange, anything but an after thought so to speak. Yet its form and substance are any and everything but clear. I’m talking about a subtle indication uttered on the frequency of insight by the number two person in the Justice Department of the United States of America.

His name is Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General. Last week Rosenstein dropped a bomb of his own, a bomb nobody wants to really handle when he said, “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country – let alone the branch or agency of government –with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated.”

Rosenstein emphasized, “Americans should be skeptical about certain types of anonymous allegations (and sources).”

Journalistically, that is a startling revelation. Especially from a man who knows all there is to know about the investigation into President Donald Trump’s possible campaign and administration ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But it’s startling in other ways as well. Anonymous sourced stories are by nature designed to protect the source. To make sure they aren’t easily identified. Planting questions about how that’s done strikes deeply at the credibility of the story. However, his statement also strikes deeply at his own credibility. Exactly who is he trying to make it harder to protect?
Rosenstein is in the news because President Trump has added him to the list of Justice Department officials he’s thinking about firing. Rod is the man responsible for hiring highly regarded Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller to investigate the Russian Connection former FBI Director James Comey was investigating when Trump fired him, apparently and probably, because the investigation was getting too close to the White House.

The irony here is that Rosenstein is the guy who wrote the memo, at Trump’s request. The memo used to justify Comey’s firing. Now Mueller is turning up the heat by announcing Trump is the subject of an Obstruction of Justice Investigation into whether Comey’s firing was an attempt to derail and interfere with a federal investigation. Funny, isn’t it, how “what goes around, comes around” in such fascinating ways.

But the quote, the quote is what we need to really think through. What would make the number two man in the Justice Department warn us to be skeptical of anonymous quotes that don’t identify the country from which the quote originates. “Aye, There’s the rub.”

Is the bread crumb an attempt to say the Russians are still at it? Or does it point in a wholly different direction? Is it a preemptive strike for some story yet to be published?
Even the Washington Post is aware of Rosenstein’s warning. I’m seeing an increasing number of quotes that do exactly what Rosenstein suggests. Some contain that extra layer of attribution.

There are those who wonder whether this is some sort of capitulation to the President. An attempt to ease his criticism. Even conservatives are openly speculating. Commentator Bill Kristall wrote, “There must be a heck of Trump story coming based on alleged information from anonymous foreign officials.”

Other commentators like Preet Bharara are wondering “where is Rod Rosenstein’s statement responding to the President’s repeated attacks on his appointment of Robert Mueller?”
So what exactly is this about? Is Rosenstein trying to discredit a new bombshell from a foreign source? The Washington Post, the source of ground-breaking reporting on this story, is asking, “Is he trying to discredit a particular story, every story or some future story?” I wonder whether this is an attempt to warn of further Russian interference in source and or media meddling?

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Perhaps Rosenstein is just succumbing to the growing pressure around him, the uncertainty of the actions of an unpredictable President. Or maybe it’s just a strange warning from a strange place that there’s so much more to come.

Dennis Edwards is the Interim-Pastor of Richmond’s Historic 4th Baptist Church. He is an Emmy Award Winning Investigative Television Journalist, a graduate of Virginia Union University and its Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology.

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