WASHINGTON (JTA) — Speaking just weeks ago about combating anti-Semitism, Jeffrey Adam Rosen, the deputy attorney general, quoted Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not incumbent on you to complete the work, but neither can you desist from doing it.”
Now Rosen is set to become a historical footnote by completing William Barr’s work as attorney general. Barr quit Monday, and US President Donald Trump said on Twitter that Rosen would be acting attorney general.
Trump delivered the hoariest of Washington reasons for Barr’s planned departure on Dec. 23, less than a month before Trump leaves office under protest: “To spend the holidays with his family.”
There may be more than chestnuts roasting. Trump is reportedly furious with Barr for not backing up Trump’s false assertions that the election that will on Jan. 20 deliver Joe Biden to the presidency was fraudulent. In a resignation letter that Trump attached to his Twitter thread and that is otherwise fulsome in its praise for Trump, Barr alluded to their differences on Trump’s false claims of election fraud.
At a time when the country is so deeply divided, it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to ensure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome,” Barr said.
Trump said Rosen was an “outstanding person.” Rosen’s nomination in February of 2019 raised eyebrows: A veteran of the Department of Transportation in the George W. Bush and Trump administrations, he had no experience in the Justice Department or as a prosecutor. Yet Trump nominated Rosen reportedly at Barr’s behest.
Rosen, who is Jewish, delivered remarks in October at a State Department conference on anti-Semitism. He said that “addressing this disturbing rise of anti-Semitism is a priority of the Justice Department,” but also cautioned that it was incumbent on law enforcement to respect speech freedoms. He took exception particularly to the term “hate speech”, which is favored by a number of anti-defamation groups, including major Jewish organizations. Trump frequently has been accused of peddling “hate speech.”
“At least in the realm of the law, we should look to find a better term than ‘hate speech’, as that term can cover some things that are protected by the First Amendment and some that are not, so it has not proven very useful,” Rosen said. “And sometimes the term ‘hate speech’ has been used to label whatever the person using the phrase doesn’t like. It has become too easy to label political speech as such.