By Carey Wedler
This week, President Obama appointed a replacement for disgraced former DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart. Chuck Rosenberg is a former U.S. District Attorney and former general counsel for two FBI directors, as well as a former attorney general. He is highly regarded among his government colleagues, but a deeper examination of his record reveals troubling implications for the DEA’s future.
Before delving into Rosenberg’s personal positions, it is worth noting the figures he has worked under. Rosenberg served as general and/or senior counsel to former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, former Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and current FBI Director, James Comey. He also worked for Comey when they were district attorneys for the federal government. All three of these men have employed policies and surveillance that grossly violate civil liberties and the privacy of citizens.
Thanks to the Patriot Act passed in 2001, the FBI seized a wide range of surveillance powers, apparently, under the legal guidance of Rosenberg.
Rosenberg went on to hold powerful roles in his own right taking similar stances on intrusive government practices. As the FBI details,
“Chuck served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is routinely entrusted with many of the nation’s most sensitive terrorism and national security prosecutions. As the chief federal law enforcement officer for the district, Chuck supervised the prosecution of all federal crimes and the litigation of all civil matters involving the federal government,”
In fact, Chuck Rosenberg helped secure the conviction of accused 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. That case saw CIA interrogation tapes destroyed (Rosenberg recused himself from the handling of that specific element of the case). Even more suspect is that this year, Moussaoui accused the Saudi government of involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks. The FBI, which has spent over a decade attempting to “solve” the 2001 World Trade Center tragedy, has been accused of covering up pertinent facts that lend credibility to Moussaoui’s allegations of a Saudi connection.
Before 9/11, Rosenberg served as the Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern Virginia district. Before taking charge of that region in the mid-2000s, he worked as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Southern Texas. When he was in Texas, he argued strongly against a congressional bill intended to protect freedom of the press. S. 1419, or the Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, was intended to “…maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media.”
Rosenberg argued in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary that the bill would “create serious impediments to the Department’s ability to effectively enforce the law, fight terrorism, and protect the national security.”
He claimed the bill, intended to protect journalists, “…would bar the Government from obtaining information about media sources even in the most urgent of circumstances affecting the public’s health or safety except in a very narrow category of cases involving ‘imminent and actual harm to national security.’ This is simply too late and too narrow.”
The bill eventually died and Rosenberg had made his position on freedom of expression versus government power clear. As an ardent supporter of “fighting terrorism” and enabling the government, he sided with censorship and intrusive policy over freedom. Further, he made this power a priority over a rational conversation about the Drug War. In 2005, while defending the Patriot Act’s solidification of “delayed warrants” (as assistant Deputy Attorney in Southern Texas), he testified to a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on the Judiciary House of Representatives that the “sneak and peek” warrants were essential for “detecting and incapacitating terrorists, drug dealers and other criminals before they can harm our nation.”
Rosenberg’s belief in the Drug War (and consequential support of the Patriot Act) is further demonstrated by the opinion of a sheriff with whom he worked when he was the lead attorney in Eastern Virginia. When Rosenberg departed his position in 2008 to join a private law firm, Arlington Police Chief, Doug Scott, stated that his absence would be a “tremendous blow for the law enforcement community to absorb” because “…Chuck’s leadership and willingness to help local law enforcement went well beyond what any of the chiefs or sheriffs in the region could have ever expected.“
Rosenberg prosecuted drug cases while in this position.
His dedication to enforcing the law may make him an ideal candidate for citizens and government officials that value authoritarianism, but the direction Rosenberg took following his exit from Eastern Virginia calls his integrity into question.
Throughout his time serving as everything from Assistant Deputy Attorney in Texas to lead U.S. Attorney in Virginia, Rosenberg prosecuted a variety of crimes—from espionage to terrorism and national security. He also prosecuted financial crimes. In 2008, however, Rosenberg went to work for the private law firm, Hogan and Hartson (now known as Hogan and Lovell). There, he specialized in none other than white collar crime. During his employment there, the law firm touted Rosenberg as having “extensive and unique experience at the highest levels of federal law enforcement.”
Rosenberg used his experience in the system to evade the laws he once enforced. Nevertheless, while testifying on corporate crime and prosecution, he argued that the system was working:
“So I guess it is not very interesting for me to show up here and tell you that the system is not broken, but actually, I am not very interesting, and that is why I am here, to tell you that the system is not broken.”
In spite of the fact that since his 2009 testimony corporate crime has not been deterred (and the instigators of the financial collapse have escaped with slaps on the wrist), Rosenberg still felt confident in saying that the Justice Department was doing a stand-up job in its handling of corporate crime.
Following his time at Hogan and Lovell, Rosenberg returned to work as Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel for John Comey, who became head of the FBI in 2013. Though Comey (and by extension, Rosenberg) had once resisted certain surveillance powers, he famously claimed last year that companies like Apple and Droid should disable encryption features. He argued that by listening to consumer demands for more privacy (following Edward Snowden’s revelations), companies were endangering law enforcement’s ability to do its job. It is difficult to imagine that as Chief of Staff and senior counsel to Comey, Chuck Rosenberg had no opinion or influence on this matter.
Ultimately, President Obama could have selected a far more fervent Drug Warrior to chair the DEA. Rosenberg is not a career drug prosecutor, though he has prosecuted his fair share of drug-related crimes. What is far more concerning about Rosenberg’s appointment is his long history of dealing with terror and national security cases. It is his willingness to eloquently argue in favor of oppressive government policy while paying lip service to freedom of expression and civil liberties.
The DEA has already implemented broad-scale, invasive spying measures in order to sustain the Drug War. That Obama has appointed someone who is an enthusiast for programs such as FBI surveillance and the Patriot Act signals not only that there is no serious effort to end the drug war, but that the DEA is prepared to continue use of “counter-terrorism” and “national security” tactics in order to continue it.
Rosenberg was confirmed with little criticism and is expected to assume the office on May 18. Though his appointment requires Senate confirmation, Rosenberg has enjoyed unanimous support from the nation’s lawmakers in the past.