U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks at the New York City Bar Association's annual White Collar Crime Institute on May 9, 2018 in New York City.
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May 11, 2018 3:21 PM EDT

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who has come under fire from President Trump and other Republicans as he oversees the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller — advised law school graduates on Friday to “fall back on your own moral principles” whenever they face ethical dilemmas.

In recent months, Trump has slammed the Justice Department over the investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” and an “embarrassment to our country” — criticism that sparked questions about whether Rosenstein would be fired from his job. House Republicans closely allied with Trump have drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, threatening to use them as a “last resort” in a request to hand over documents related to the decisions of officials working on federal investigations, the Washington Post reported.

“I want to leave you with some advice about what to do when you are not certain what to do,” Rosenstein told graduates on Friday during his commencement address at Campbell University Law School in Raleigh, N.C. “Your world is filled with ethical rules. So many rules that sometimes you cannot keep track of them all. When the rules are unclear, it is best to fall back on your own moral principles.”

Rosenstein urged graduates to be mindful of their responsibilities as lawyers.

“One additional step you need to take before you practice law is to swear an oath. In fact, you need to take an oath each time you join the bar of a new court,” he said. “Some lawyers get so accustomed to swearing that they don’t pay much attention to what they are promising to do. But there was a time when taking an oath was a matter of life and death. In 1535, Sir Thomas More was executed because he refused to swear a false oath.”

More was a lawyer and philosopher who resigned as chancellor of England and was executed after refusing to acknowledge King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. Rosenstein referred back to More as an example of someone devoted to upholding the law in spite of other pressures.

Part of the controversy over the investigation into Russian meddling has revolved around Trump’s desire to see it end. Before firing former FBI director James Comey, Comey has said, Trump asked him to pledge loyalty. In a meeting at the White House in December, Trump reportedly asked Rosenstein if he was “on my team,” according to a CNN report.

“Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge, other than the oath of office,” Rosenstein testified before Congress in December.

On Friday, Rosenstein asked graduates to pursue the truth in their profession.

“Lawyers are obligated to speak up for the truth. John Adams famously observed that ‘[f]acts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.’ Pursuing truth means always yielding to the facts, even if they run counter to our hopes,” Rosenstein said. “Lawyers who seek the truth frequently confront diverging roads. Controversy, stress, and difficult decisions define our daily existence. This is definitely not a career for the faint of heart.”

Read the complete transcript of his remarks below:

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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.

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