Deputy AG Rosenstein mum on Manafort charges

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Speaking in Detroit hours after federal criminal charges were announced against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and a former business associate, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein did not comment on the developments Monday at the North American International Cyber Summit at Cobo Center.

Rosenstein is in charge of overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a former Manafort business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted on felony charges of conspiracy against the United States, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and several other financial counts involving tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts, according to the Associated Press.

The indictments, the first arising from Mueller’s sprawling investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 election effort, bring the probe into a new phase and pose the threat of a years-long prison sentence for the man who once led the president’s campaign.

Rosenstein, one of summit’s featured speakers, stuck to his script during his visit in Detroit, talking about the importance of the rule of law in America and encouraging the private sector business community to report cyberattacks to law enforcement to prevent future attacks.

“The rule of law is not just about words on paper. It depends upon the character of the people who enforce the law,” Rosenstein told a crowd of about 900 at Cobo. “The rule of law is not just a feature of America. The rule of law is the foundation of America.”

Rosenstein said many cyberattacks are directed by foreign governments.

“When you are up against the military or intelligence services of a foreign nation-state, you need to have our federal government on your side,” Rosenstein said

The only time Rosenstein mentioned Trump’s name was when he said he was proud to work for the Justice Department and he was “proud President Trump demonstrates his respect for the department by appointing men and women who lead it who are faithful to the rule of law.”

Rosenstein said as driverless automobiles become increasingly smarter, interconnected and automated, the risk of their use in a cyber-attack rises.

A March 2016 Government Accountability Office report finds that “remote attacks” on cars could involve multiple vehicles and cause widespread impacts including passenger injuries, Rosenstein said.

“That type of attack is especially worrisome because it is scalable. Cyber attackers could theoretically achieve massive attacks of multiple vehicles simultaneously. Companies must prepare for this threat and ensure that the automobiles of tomorrow are built today with good cyber-defenses,” he said.

Rosenstein said in 2016 in Michigan, the Board of Water & Light fell victim to a ransomware attack when an employee erroneously opened an e-mail attachment containing the virus.

“Although the virus affected only the utility’s e-mail and accounting systems, the board paid a $25,000 ransom and spent $2 million on other remedial measures,” he said.

“The Board was lucky — many cyber-thieves are happy to pocket ransom payments without unlocking their victims’ computers.”

If the virus had actually impacted electric or water systems, consumers could have lost services for days or weeks, he said.

Three months ago, Michigan’s Caro Community Hospital and its related facilities lost access for two weeks to computers, phones, patient records and e-mail services because of a ransomware attack, Rosenstein said. No medical devices were directly affected.

“Imagine how much more serious the attack could have been. Many types of machines critical to emergency treatment are computers. MRI machines and ventilators may run software and be connected to networks. A targeted and widespread attack on medical service providers could endanger lives,” he said.

Rosenstein told the group that cyberattacks have become more sophisticated and wide reaching, and the best way to protect a business is to have a plan in the case of a successful attack.

“Best defense is to have a plan ahead of time,” Rosenstein said, “and the FBI is here to help.”

Law enforcement provides substantial benefits to victims of cyber intrusions and attacks and employs investigative tools not available to the private sector, Rosenstein said.

“Even where we may be unable to arrest or prosecute the hackers, we can tap into the expertise of other agencies, and deploy tools that reach beyond our borders,” he said.

Mueller’s office has questioned Rosenstein as it probes the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the Associated Press reported in September.

Rosenstein was sworn in as the 37th Deputy Attorney General of the United States on April 26 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

After joining the Department of Justice through the Attorney General’s Honors Program in 1990, Rosenstein prosecuted public corruption cases as a trial attorney with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, his online biography says.

The summit in Detroit, hosted by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, is in its sixth year and brings together a crowd of more than 900 people to discuss solutions for cybersecurity threats that impact the world in the 21st century.

Snyder’s office says the State of Michigan has long been considered a national leader in cybersecurity, leading the discussion on emerging trends and best practices in policy, law and all manner of public and private interests. Monday’s event includes internationally recognized speakers and experts from around the country.

Associated Press contributed.