Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to resign on May 11, ending a controversial tenure in which he appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller and took actions that won him praise — and anger — from both the right and left.
“The Department of Justice made rapid progress in achieving the administration’s law enforcement priorities,” Rosenstein, 54, said in his resignation letter to President Donald Trump on Monday. “We enforce the law without fear or favor because credible evidence is not partisan, and truth is not determined by opinion polls.”
Rosenstein, a veteran federal prosecutor who served under presidents of both parties, appointed Mueller in May 2017 to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump or any of his associates conspired in the effort. He won praise from Democrats for defending Mueller and letting the special counsel carry out the investigation in the face of constant attacks by Trump and his conservative allies.
Some House Republicans called for ousting Rosenstein last year after a report that he’d talked of someone wearing a wire to record Trump, an allegation he called inaccurate. At one point, fearing that Trump would fire him, Rosenstein told the president, “I give the investigation credibility. I can land the plane,” the Washington Post reported last week, citing an administration official it didn’t identify.
Then, after Mueller submitted his final report last month, Democrats criticized Rosenstein for siding with Attorney General William Barr in announcing that Mueller didn’t find enough evidence to charge Trump with obstructing the investigation.
In fact, Mueller said his investigation didn’t exonerate Trump on obstruction and declined to reach a traditional prosecution decision, largely because of a Justice Department policy that says a president can’t be indicted while in office, according to a redacted version of his report released this month.
Rosenstein was chosen by Trump to be the No. 2 official at the Justice Department in 2017. He had served for 12 years as U.S. attorney for Maryland during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Rosenstein joined the Justice Department in 1990 and had a reputation as a non-political public servant, credited with helping reshape the department’s priorities.
“Over the course of his distinguished government career, he has navigated many challenging situations with strength, grace, and good humor,” Barr said in a statement on Monday. “Rod has been an invaluable partner to me during my return to the department, and I have relied heavily on his leadership and judgment over the past several months.”
No other issue loomed larger over Rosenstein’s tenure than the Mueller investigation.
Rosenstein struck notes of bitterness and defiance in a speech last week in New York, scoffing at “mercenary critics who get paid to express passionate opinions about any topic” and questioning the handling of Russia’s election interference under Obama.
“Some critical decisions about the Russia investigation were made before I got there,” he said. “The previous administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls.”
Referring to James Comey, whose firing by Trump led to Mueller being appointed, the deputy attorney general said “the former FBI director alleged that the president pressured him to close the investigation, and the president denied that the conversation occurred. So that happened.”
Mueller was appointed by Rosenstein after Trump fired Comey, who had been overseeing the Russia investigation.
Rosenstein made the decision to name a special counsel days after he took charge of the probe, which he inherited after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early Trump campaign supporter, recused himself from matters related to the 2016 election.
Rosenstein also battled with congressional Republicans over releasing secret information about the Russia investigation, as well as information about how the Justice Department and FBI handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
House Republicans last year even drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein for refusing to turn over internal documents that they said would reveal the questionable origins of the Russia investigation. Impeachment never went forward, as Republicans lost control of the House.