Chuck Rosenberg: Prosecutor known for diligence, tenacity


The Alexandria office of the federal prosecutor overseeing the investigation of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick looks like the den of the worlds biggest sports fan.

Chuck Rosenberg, the 49th U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexander Hamilton was the first), presides over 115 federal prosecutors, who in recent years have scored convictions or copped pleas from some of the worlds most notorious miscreants from Sept. 11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui to former FBI official and convicted spy Robert Hanssen.

Despite his high profile, Rosenberg is an unassuming man with a passion for sports. The small television in his office is tuned to the New York Mets game (not Court TV), and the walls are lined with photos of his son and his Little League triumphs (Rosenberg is his sons coach). MacMillans Baseball Encyclopedia is the reference book of choice no bulging tomes on federal rules for civil procedure.

A pair of boxing gloves hangs next to his desk, a memento from his staff from the time he wrestled with an unruly defendant in court. In that particular case, the defendant was not pleased with the verdict, so he bit one of the U.S. marshals, Rosenberg recalled last week. I thought the court security officer needed a little help, so I jumped on [the defendant].

Rosenberg has investigated or prosecuted some of the highest-profile criminals, terrorists and spies of the 20th and 21st centuries (think Moussaoui, Hanssen, Aldrich Ames and John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban). But as the son of a freight-loader who grew up in Brooklyn, Rosenberg goes out of his way to maintain a low profile, rarely granting interviews.

Have my children seen me on television? Yes, and theyre completely bored, he said. Talk about keeping you humble. … They think its utterly ridiculous that anybody would care what I have to say. Theyre probably right.

President George W. Bush nominated Rosenberg as the chief law enforcement officer for the Eastern District last year, charged with overseeing U.S. Attorney offices in Alexandria, Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond, and supervising the prosecution of all federal crimes.

Not only has Chuck successfully prosecuted many high profile cases in his current role, but he has shown a dedication to the Department of Justice that is tough to match,  said Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Thats why I personally chose him earlier this year as my interim Chief of Staff. His focused attention to priorities like terrorism and public corruption, matched with his personal and professional integrity, have made him a highly respected figure across all components of the department.

Since Sept. 11, Rosenberg has seen a shift in prosecutorial priorities. Large-scale models of the Pentagon and the Twin Towers outside his office remind him every day of his new mandate.

For years we did cutting-edge work in espionage cases, like Hanssen and Ames, he said. But since 9/11 weve seen a shift in priorities towards more counter-terrorism and national security cases.

In the case of Moussaoui, who prosecutors charged was to have been a replacement for one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, the trial was seen as a barometer of the ability and willingness of the government to give a fair hearing to terrorism suspects. Rosenberg called it an inordinately difficult case.

We faced issues never confronted before in a civilian court, he said. Many in our community were so affected by the events of 9/11. That this man could get a fair trial in the back yard of the Pentagon with all the rights that any of the accused would get made it a difficult proceeding, but a proud moment.

Rosenberg said he hoped to tell the story of Sept. 11, its tales of horror and grief, through the eyes of its victims. Even though we didnt obtain the death penalty, we still told the stories, which were heart wrenching, he said. I sat in the court every day, and there wasnt a day I didnt cry.

Child predator cases
A steady stream of white-collar crimes, drugs, immigration offenses, procurement fraud, pump and dump stock manipulation schemes and gang-related cases also reach Rosenbergs desk.

If its criminal, it will come here, he said.

Child predator cases can be the toughest to stomach. Rosenbergs office has a team of investigators exclusively detailed to the Department of Justices Project Safe Childhood program, and the Eastern District leads the nation in prosecutions of child predators.

How many get away? Who knows, he said. But our message to child predators is pretty clear: Leave our kids alone.

The laws on possession, receipt and manufacture of child pornography are severe. If youre convicted, youre going to jail, he said firmly. If youre going to jail, youre staying in jail.

As a father or two, Rosenberg calls these cases both troubling and energizing. What we see now is a coarsening of society. Pictures and images are getting worse and worse. Children depicted in them are getting younger and younger.

While most of his criminal cases are brought by the FBI or the Secret Service, increasingly these cases arise from state and local investigations, such as the Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Sheriffs Office or Office of the Commonwealths Attorney.

His office and our office have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, said S. Randolph Sengel, the Commonwealths Attorney of Alexandria. The most-outstanding quality or attribute that Chuck brings to that job is his trial experience. First and foremost he is a trial attorney. Someone at the helm whos been in the trenches is a huge asset to the community.

Rosenberg is a graduate of Harvard Universitys vaunted John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of Virginias Law School. Other than a short stint at Hunton & Williams law firm and as an NBC legal analyst, hes spent his entire career in public service.

I have a wife whos both a saint whos inordinately patient who has indulged me in this passion, he said. Would it be nice to have more money? I guess so. But I dont think I would trade these last 17 years for all the money in the world.

However, Rosenberg knows that in his current job, theyll throw me out at some point, regardless of who wins in November 2008. And actually, I dont give a damn about politics.

Early in his career, Rosenberg spent two years working on Capitol Hill, an experience that he said got politics completely out of my system. … It was just not my thing.

As a legal analyst for NBC, Rosenberg found that TV was not his thing, either. [I was] probably one of the worst ones in the history of television because Id just answer the damn question, he recalled. I always felt they wanted some controversy. I never felt Id mastered the sound bite. So I may have been the most least-inspiring analyst in the history of television.