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  • Rosenstein

Thursday, January 10, 2019 1:00 am

Rosenstein prepares for departure

Out after new AG confirmed

ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the most visible Justice Department protector of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and a frequent target of President Donald Trump's wrath, is expected to leave his position soon after Trump's nominee for attorney general is confirmed.

The departure creates uncertainty about the oversight of Mueller's team as it enters what may be its final months of work. But the attorney general nominee, William Barr, moved quickly Wednesday to quell concerns that his arrival could endanger the probe, telling lawmakers during Capitol Hill visits ahead of his confirmation hearing that he has a high opinion of Mueller.

“He had absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do or how to do it,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will question Barr on Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, Barr could be in place at the Justice Department by February. Rosenstein is expected to leave his position soon after that, though he is not being forced out, said a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

The departure is not surprising given that Rosenstein has been deputy almost two years. It is common for new attorneys general to have their own deputies and Barr has told people close to him that he wanted his own No. 2 as part of taking the attorney general job.

It was unclear who might replace Rosenstein, though Barr has some ideas for a selection, Graham said, without elaborating.

The deputy position requires Senate confirmation. It was also not immediately clear whether Rosenstein's top deputy, Edward O'Callaghan, who has a prominent role overseeing Mueller's investigation, might remain in his role.

Rosenstein's departure is noteworthy given his appointment of Mueller and close supervision of his work. He's also endured a tenuous relationship with Trump, who has repeatedly decried Rosenstein's decision to appoint Mueller, and with congressional Republicans who accused him of withholding documents from them and not investigating aggressively enough what they contend was political bias within the FBI.

In September, Rosenstein went to the White House expecting to be fired after news reports that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking a constitutional amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office. He was ultimately allowed to stay on after private conversations with Trump and John Kelly, then chief of staff.

Trump also shared a photo on Twitter in November showing Rosenstein and others criticized by the president behind bars, calling for them to be tried for “treason.”

Mueller is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein and his chief deputy have continued to maintain day-to-day oversight over the probe, a senior Justice Department official told reporters last month.

Barr would take over control of the investigation, assuming the same final say over major investigative steps that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has had since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted from his position in November.

Democrats have been wary of Whitaker, who has declined to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into election meddling. The Democratic leader of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Gerrold Nadler, on Wednesday called for him to appear before the panel Jan. 29.