After a scathing new report from the Justice Department's watchdog blamed top department officials for being the "driving force" behind the Trump administration's 2018 migrant family separation policy, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a statement of regret Thursday and current DOJ official Gene Hamilton blamed the president for the policy.
In interviews with the DOJ Office of Inspector General in the lead-up to the report, Gene Hamilton, known as a close ally of White House adviser Stephen Miller, said the decision to separate families, a policy known as "zero tolerance" that lasted two months in 2018 before it was terminated by executive order, ultimately rested with President Donald Trump and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
"If Secretary Nielsen and DHS did not want to refer people with minors, with children, then we wouldn't have prosecuted them because they wouldn't have referred them. And ultimately that decision would be between Secretary Nielsen and the president," Hamilton told the Office of Inspector General, according to the report.
"The Attorney General was aware of White House desires for further action related to combatting illegal immigration, imminent and ongoing actions by the Department of Homeland Security, and he perceived a need to take quick action," Hamilton told the Inspector General.
In response to the report, Rosenstein, who left the department in May 2019, said in a statement to NBC News: "Since leaving the department, I have often asked myself what we should have done differently, and no issue has dominated my thinking more than the zero tolerance immigration policy. It was a failed policy that never should have been proposed or implemented. I wish we all had done better."
During an April 20, 2018, meeting at the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rosenstein, Hamilton and others met with Nielsen, says the report. There, according to notes from Hamilton, "the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General both expressed a willingness to prosecute adults in family units if DHS made the decision to start referring such individuals for prosecution."
Sessions refused to be interviewed by the Inspector General and could not be reached for comment. The White House referred NBC News to the Justice Department for comment.
NBC News previously reported on a draft version of the report in October.
The report, published Thursday by the Justice Department's Inspector General more than two years after the policy ended, pieces together decisions made by high-ranking Trump administration officials that led to the separation of more than 3,000 migrant families.
"We concluded that the Department’s single-minded focus on increasing immigration prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact of family unit prosecutions and child separations," the Inspector General's report said.