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Who is special counsel Robert Hur?

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Now that the Biden administration has disclosed the discovery of classified documents in one of the president's private offices, there's another name we'll be hearing more of as the Justice Department investigates the matter. That is newly appointed special counsel Robert Hur. He's the former top federal prosecutor for Maryland, a role to which he was appointed by former President Donald Trump. Still, some Trump allies in Congress are not happy about this. Let's talk about it with someone who knows Robert Hur and other special counsel cases well. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein joins me now. Welcome.

ROD ROSENSTEIN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

SUMMERS: Good to have you. So Robert Hur spent 11 months as your top aide when you were serving as deputy attorney general. Can you just start by telling us a little bit about what kind of prosecutor he is, what kind of person he is, and what you think makes him so prepared for this role?

ROSENSTEIN: Certainly. The reason that I recruited Rob to join me in the Justice Department in 2017 was that he'd worked with me as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland from 2007 to 2014. He handled cases ranging from violent crime to fraud. Everything that Rob worked on, he handled expertly. He was well-regarded by staff as well as by agents and defense attorneys and judges. He just has a winning personality and was well respected by all.

SUMMERS: And part of the time that you worked together, he was overseeing the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference, meeting regularly with then-special counsel Robert Mueller. What do you think he learned from that experience?

ROSENSTEIN: Yeah. I think that experience will be particularly valuable to Rob in this new role. Rob was the leader of our liaison team, and he met with special counsel approximately every two weeks to get an update on their status and then a report back to me as acting attorney general on the progress they were making. So as a result of that, he learned about how the special counsel operates. He also was doing that job during a time when we were under a lot of political pressure from commentators and from politicians who were skeptical about the Russia investigation. And so, you know, Rob has the experience of learning how to ignore all that chatter and just keep focused on the things that matter.

SUMMERS: OK. So there is clearly just a ton of attention on this case and then the probe involving former President Donald Trump. Even though they waited until after the midterms to make it public, President Biden's attorneys have cooperated with the National Archives. And there were fewer than a dozen documents at his Delaware office. And compare that to Trump, who had to face a subpoena and FBI seizure involving about 100 classified documents. And both are being highly politicized right now. How do you think that Hur will handle that political pressure?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, I think the key when you're in this position is to just tune out all the media and all the politics and keep focus on the facts. You know, the first goal in conducting this sort of an investigation is to make sure you know the facts better than anybody else. And that requires conducting interviews, reviewing documents. Only then are you really in position to apply the law and evaluate whether or not there have been any potential criminal violations. So I think that's the decision path that Rob will need to take.

SUMMERS: House Republicans are already launching their own investigation. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, who we should just note is a Trump ally, has already asked the Department of Justice for all of its communications related to Hur's appointment, saying that it's in the name of transparency. Do you think that that kind of oversight is necessary here?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, there's a role for congressional oversight. But the key is when you're conducting a criminal investigation, you don't want Congress to be interviewing the same witnesses and to be publicizing facts about the investigation while it's underway. So this is going to be a challenging circumstance for Rob, because Congress is clearly going to be interested in knowing about the documents and understanding how they came to be found, where they were located. And they've got a legitimate oversight interest in finding that out. We needed to deal with that in the Russia special counsel investigation, in the Whitewater investigation in the 1990s, which I worked on with Ken Starr. But it's inevitable that there are going to be clashes. There are going to be disagreements between Congress and the executive branch as to what is the appropriate thing to do. And the assurance that we have is that Rob Hur, because he has a degree of independence from the Department of Justice - he's not part of the Biden administration - he's going to be bringing to bear independent judgment in making those decisions.

SUMMERS: Before I let you go, I'd just like to ask you, what do you think the definition of success is for someone in Robert Hur's position for a special counsel?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, the key issue for the special counsel is to independently uncover the relevant facts and make a determination about whether or not prosecution is warranted. So I expect Rob Hur do that. And then ultimately, the decision in all these cases is ultimately up to the attorney general as to, you know, what to do, whether or not it's appropriate to bring charges. And if it came to that, and I don't know that it will, but if it came to that, that Rob Hur made an affirmative recommendation to charge the president, Merrick Garland would need to make a decision about whether or not he agreed with that, No. 1, and No. 2, about whether or not to enforce that department policy prohibiting prosecution of the president. So, you know, that would result in some very tricky issues for the attorney general.

SUMMERS: We've been speaking with Rod Rosenstein, former deputy attorney general. Thanks so much for your time.

ROSENSTEIN: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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