Rosenstein: Rule of law must take precedence over politics

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein did not explicitly mention the continuing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but he stressed the importance of holding the rule of law above politics during a speech Thursday in Linthicum.

Rosenstein, Maryland’s former top federal prosecutor, took the high-profile step of appointing special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III in May to oversee the investigation into President Donald J. Trump’s campaign after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the matter.

Rosenstein quoted from Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons” — in which two characters debate whether the Devil should be granted the benefit of the law — in his keynote address to business leaders at the BWI Business Partnership’s monthly breakfast at a ballroom in the BWI Airport Marriott.

“If we permit the rule of law to erode because it doesn't harm our personal interests, that erosion may eventually consume us as well,” Rosenstein said. “If people lose faith in the rule of law, then everyone will suffer.”

Keeping the law independent of politics is critical to a thriving business atmosphere, Rosenstein told the business leaders.

"The rule of law is critical to you,” he said. “It allows businesses to engage in enforceable contracts, make investments and project revenue with some assurance about the future. It establishes a mechanism to resolve disputes, and it provides some degree of protection from arbitrary government actions."

He also discussed the challenges that cybercrime, intellectual property crime and warrant-proof encryption pose to the Department of Justice and the business community.

Rosenstein referenced a recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures, a cybersecurity research firm, that estimated the cost of cybercrime in the U.S. will double from about $3 trillion in 2015 to $6 trillion in 2021.

He mentioned high-profile cyberattacks at the University of Maryland in 2014 and at MedStar Health last year and encouraged businesses to prepare for the unexpected and ask for help from federal law enforcement before, during and after any such event.

“One intrusion could mean economic loss, bankruptcy, and in some cases even loss of life,” Rosenstein said.

Enforcing intellectual property laws is crucial, he said, because “it assures innovators and investors that when they devote the time and money to develop new concepts and products, they’ll reap the financial rewards.”

“If we fail to protect intellectual property rights, the immediate consequence will be monetary losses to the property owners, but the long-term impact is that there will be less investment in time and resources and fewer innovations,” Rosenstein said.

He mentioned two recent mass shootings — the killing of 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last weekend and the killing of 14 at an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015 — to argue that companies should give government agents access to encrypted cellphone data during their investigations.

Apple refused to cooperate with the FBI and federal prosecutors when they sought to unlock the phone of a suspect in the San Bernardino shooting, citing privacy concerns. The government cracked the encryption as it was litigating that case, but authorities have now run into a similar issue with the phone of the suspect in the massacre in Texas, Rosenstein said.

“Nobody has a legitimate expectation of privacy in that phone,” he said. “The suspect is deceased, and even if he were alive, it would be legal for police and prosecutors to find out what is in the phone. When you shoot dozens of American citizens, we want law enforcement to investigate you. We want to know about your communications and your contacts. We expect police and prosecutors to investigate such horrendous crimes. There are things we need to know.”

Rosenstein mentioned Trump by name only once, while praising the president’s efforts to review and roll back what he considers unnecessary federal regulation.

“I’m proud of President Trump’s order to the Department of Justice along with other agencies to review all regulations to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people,” he said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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