There has been plenty of criticism of President Donald Trump’s remarks encouraging rank-and-file officers to rough up suspects from big-city police departments, police reform groups and the Democratic National Committee.
But another harsh condemnation came from a particularly notable source: the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg.
In a memo to agency employees written the day after Trump’s speech and circulated widely on Tuesday, Rosenberg wrote that the President “condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement.”
Rosenberg’s matter-of-fact rebuke to Trump’s self-styled claim to be as the “law-and-order” President comes from a veteran of Republican and Democratic administrations who has worked on counterterrorism, drug enforcement and espionage cases during his decades-long tenure at the FBI and Justice Department.
The White House and its defenders have brushed off criticism of the remarks, insisting Trump was just making a “joke” that liberal detractors were taking too seriously. One of the country’s top law enforcement officials apparently did not interpret it that way.
“I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong,” Rosenberg wrote in the memo, referring to Trump’s remarks. “That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.”
Former FBI Director James Comey has praised Rosenberg, who worked under him as chief of staff, as “one of the finest people and public servants I have ever known,” while former Attorney General Loretta Lynch called him “an exceptional leader, a skilled problem solver and a consummate public servant of unshakeable integrity.”
Rosenberg’s criticism also is notable given his past advocacy on issues important to the current administration. Appointed in 2015 as interim DEA director, Rosenberg drew criticism from the Obama administration for echoing concerns that the so-called “Ferguson effect” was having a chilling effect on police officers unable to properly carry out their jobs because they feared intensified public scrutiny. He also broke with the Obama DOJ in his vigorous enforcement of marijuana crimes, and was widely criticized by legalization advocates for calling medical marijuana a “joke.”
Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a priority of rolling out pro-policing policies, and Sessions has pushed for the strict prosecution of drug crimes. The Trump administration has not nominated to replace Rosenberg and CNN reported that the transition team explicitly made clear that he would be asked to stay in his position under the new president.
Rosenberg is a federal government lifer who first joined the DOJ as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia’s Eastern District in 1994. He rose through the ranks, working as U.S. attorney both for the Southern District of Texas and Eastern District of Virginia and in senior DOJ posts, including as chief of staff to Comey, counselor to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and counselor to Robert Mueller, who is now leading the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Another close ally of Comey, LawFare editor Benjamin Wittes, wrote in a post Tuesday that Rosenberg and his former boss share a similar view of the paramount importance of “apolitical, ethical law enforcement.” According to Wittes, it was not a surprise that a high-ranking law enforcement officer with Rosenberg’s background would denounce Trump’s comments.
What was surprising, he said, is that “it is the acting head of the DEA, not either the attorney general or the deputy attorney general, who has had the guts to say semi-publicly what everyone knows to be true: that President’s Trump’s approach to law enforcement is dangerous.”