After months of weathering the president’s barbs, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to leave within the upcoming weeks.
A source told the Associated Press that Rosenstein plans to call it quits once Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is confirmed. Barr has a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in office by February.
Rosenstein to step down
The anonymous source told the AP that Rosenstein shared his plans to retire once Barr is confirmed with the incoming AG when his nomination was announced. Rosenstein reportedly wants to facilitate a smooth transition and never planned to stay in the job for more than the two years he has now served.
The AP noted that it’s common for attorneys general to pick their own deputy, and Barr has said that he wants to do just that. The Senate would also have to confirm whomever Barr selects to replace Rosenstein.
Rosenstein’s plans to retire on his own terms would mark an anticlimactic end to months of tensions between the deputy AG and his boss, who often fumed against him publicly over his role in appointing Robert Mueller and supervising the special counsel’s “witch hunt.” Many expected that Trump would eventually fire Rosenstein and Trump was even encouraged to do so by the likes of Laura Ingraham.
Once confirmed, Barr would take over the reins of the investigation from Rosenstein, who took control of the Russia probe and appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in spring of 2017 after former attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Rosenstein landed in hot water when a report surfaced in September in the New York Times that he planned to wiretap Trump and have him removed from office after the president fired former FBI director James Comey in 2017. Rosenstein denied the report and held on to his job after hashing things out with Trump and former chief of staff John Kelly.
But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox that Rosenstein’s decision to leave was his own, in keeping with his plans to stay in the deputy’s position for two years. “I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out,” Sanders told Fox News.
Impact on Mueller probe?
Trump has also complained about Rosenstein’s role in signing off on a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and Rosenstein has come under fire from House Republicans for allegedly keeping documents from them and not investigating anti-Trump bias at the FBI.
Rosenstein would be the latest Trump administration official to resign or get fired as part of a midterm turnover that has remade the tops of the Justice and Defense departments. Trump fired Sessions in November and his former defense secretary James Mattis stepped down last month.
Sessions’ firing and replacement by acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, a critic of Mueller, set off a wave of panic among liberals as well as concerns that Rosenstein would be next. Rosenstein’s departure will likely fuel more anxiety on the left that Trump is planning to clamp down on Mueller’s investigation, a fear that has materialized in legislation to “protect Mueller” from being fired.
As the chief officer overlooking Mueller’s probe, Rosenstein is seen by many critics of the president as a bulwark against attempts by Trump to rein in the Russia probe. Many on the left have feared that Trump would fire Rosenstein and replace him with a Trump loyalist, but Barr told lawmakers ahead of his hearing that he has no plans to do anything to curb the Mueller investigation, which is said to be in its final weeks.
Although Barr criticized Mueller’s investigation last year, the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said he was reassured that Mueller would be protected, and Rosenstein has also said that Barr would not interfere with the probe. Barr, who was previously attorney general from 1991 to 1993, and Mueller are longtime friends.
“He had absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do or how to do it,” Graham.