U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein told a Baltimore business group Monday his top concern in Washington is defending the Constitution.
The comment came less than a week after he was thrust into the national spotlight when the White House used a memo he wrote to explain why the FBI director was fired.
Rosenstein — who stepped down from his longtime job as U.S. attorney for Maryland after he was tapped by President Donald J. Trump for his new job — said some have urged him to take steps to protect his reputation, but that's not what concerns him.
"Many people have offered me unsolicited advice over the past few days about what I should do to promote my personal reputation," Rosenstein told about 1,000 people gathered for the Greater Baltimore Committee's annual dinner meeting at a downtown hotel.
"I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. There is nothing in that oath about my reputation. If you ask me, one of the main problems in Washington, D.C., is everybody is so busy running around trying to protect their reputation instead of protecting the republic, which is what they're supposed to be doing."
After his speech, Rosenstein said he had no comment on reports published late Monday that Trump revealed classified intelligence to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting last week in the White House. Rosenstein also declined to comment on the president's assertion that no special prosecutor is needed to investigate Russian interference in the November election.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, leaving the task in Rosenstein's charge.
Rosenstein attended the meeting Monday night to accept an award for demonstrating courage in public service for his time as U.S. attorney for Maryland. He was confirmed last month to the No. 2 position in the Justice Department.
Known for avoiding politics while serving in Maryland, Rosenstein drew criticism from Democrats for his memo laying out the Trump administration's case against FBI Director James B. Comey.
Rosenstein has not said whether he feels an independent prosecutor is necessary.
He opened his comments at Monday's reception by saying, "It's nice to be in Baltimore and it's really nice not to be in Washington, D.C." for a few hours.
Rosenstein, who lauded the work of the vast majority of police during his brief remarks, drew laughter several times.
"'Some say Rod Rosenstein's job is one of the most precarious positions in public service.' That was written in 2007. I was U.S. attorney for Maryland," Rosenstein said to laughter.
He said a friend sent him a text message after the memo on Comey was released, urging him to "get out of there."
"I responded to my friend and I said, 'There is no place I would rather be,'" Rosenstein said.
"What is courage in government? It certainly includes standing on principle, ignoring the tyranny of the news cycle, resisting the urge to spin, remaining focused on the things that matter. The daily newspapers and endless talk shows are not the verdict of history."