'Honorable' US attorney poised to be next Russia investigator

09:50 • 08.03.17

As a young justice department lawyer, Rod Rosenstein was tapped to join Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate dealings.

He showed an uncommon skill with public corruption cases, demonstrating a wisdom and sensitivity beyond his years, his supervisors said, according

Now Rosenstein, who made his reputation as a competent, apolitical US attorney who served both Bush and Obama, may investigate another president’s ties to an even more high-profile scandal.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, pledged on Thursday he would recuse himself from overseeing any investigations of Russia’s role in the 2016 election. “I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in,” he said, a decision that came after bipartisan pressure from Congress over his failure to disclose two meetings with Russia’s ambassador during the election year. 

Sessions’ recusal could immediately put Rosenstein into a much higher-profile position than he might have imagined when he was nominated to serve as deputy attorney general. If confirmed, he would oversee any justice department investigation into Russian interference in the election – including any contacts between Russia and members of the Trump campaign.

Rosenstein, who is currently the US attorney in Maryland, was a surprising choice to serve as the No 2 official in Trump’s justice department, said Philip Heymann, who was Rosenstein’s law professor at Harvard, and later his boss in the Clinton justice department. Rosenstein has served in the Department of Justice for 26 years, including in the tax division, the public integrity section, and as an assistant US attorney in Maryland.

Rosenstein is a skilled prosecutor and “a straight shooter”, with a deep knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the department, but he did not seem particularly close to either Sessions or Trump, Heymann said.

 “It surprises me that they didn’t pick somebody who was more partisan,” he said.

James Cole, who served for four years as Eric Holder’s deputy attorney general, also offered unqualified praise for Rosenstein’s skill and credibility.

“He doesn’t make any decisions that either are or appear to be political,” he said.

Questions on the Russia investigation are likely to be at the center of Rosenstein’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday. He declined to comment.


Some observers have noted that during the Nixon administration, Senate Democrats used the confirmation process of Nixon’s attorney general pick, Elliot Richardson, as leverage and refused to confirm him for the job until he named a special prosecutor to oversee the Watergate investigation. Senate Democrats could take a similar approach to Rosenstein’s confirmation and demand a special prosecutor on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Intercept suggestedon Thursday.

On Sunday night, Richard Blumenthal, one of the Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, vowed on Twitter that he would “use every possible tool to block DOJ Deputy AG nominee unless he commits to appoint [an] independent special prosecutor”.

Heymann said both Democrats and Republicans would trust Rosenstein and that he was the “perfect” person to oversee an investigation into Russia’s interference in the US election – an issue both Democrats and Trump have framed, in different ways, as an inquiry that strikes at the heart of Trump’s legitimacy as president.

“I think we’re very lucky to have him in that position,” he said.

In February, the Baltimore Sun, Rosenstein’s hometown paper, called him an “honorable” public servant with “wide bipartisan support” who was too good to sell his soul by taking a job in the Trump administration.


“Just don’t go there. Say ‘no’ to President Trump,” a member of the Sun’s editorial board advised Rosenstein in an open letter.


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