Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was confirmed just a month ago in an overwhelming vote, with Democrats saying they were counting on him to be the Justice Department’s top check on President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rosenstein bore out their faith, naming a special counsel to take over the probe of Trump campaign figures’ dealings with Russia.
Just days after they blasted Mr. Rosenstein for being “duped” by Mr. Trump, Democrats were back to praising him for his decision, and for what they said was an inspired choice in selecting former FBI Director Robert Mueller as the special counsel.
“A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said, offering praise for the man who just days earlier the New York Democrat had demanded recuse himself from the proceedings.
Mr. Rosenstein was the longest serving U.S. attorney before being sworn into the deputy’s post. He was nominated as the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland in 2005 by President George W. Bush and stayed on in the role for all of President Obama’s term, prosecuting MS-13 gang members and local Democratic Maryland lawmakers alike.
Mr. Rosenstein’s handling of complicated and sensitive investigations earned him praise throughout his career.
Mr. Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate on April 25 in a 94-6 vote, with Democrats saying he would be the key figure in keeping the administration honest.
He quickly ran afoul of Democrats, though, after he drafted a memo the Trump White House used to justify its firing last week of FBI Director James B. Comey.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said he believed Mr. Rosenstein was “duped” into writing the memo while Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said it read “like political document.”
On Wednesday night, Mr. Durbin said Mr. Rosenstein had taken “a critical step,” and Mrs. Feinstein said Mr. Mueller was exactly the right choice.
The move also likely takes some heat off Mr. Rosenstein, who is scheduled to brief senators in a closed-door session Thursday on the progress in the Russia probe.
A Harvard Law School graduate, Mr. Rosenstein quickly impressed those he worked with after earning a slot in the attorney general’s honor’s program in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section a year after his 1989 graduation.
Obama-era Deputy Attorney General James Cole served as Mr. Rosenstein’s supervisor at the time, writing in a letter supportive of Mr. Rosenstein’s nomination for Deputy Attorney General that he “exhibited sound judgment and careful thought necessary to handle the very sensitive public corruption cases that were prosecuted by the Section.”
In 2011, Mr. Cole said when he was able to work with Mr. Rosenstein again, he found “that he got even better with age.”
“He was truly respected in the U.S. Attorney community, was a valuable resource for my office with truly difficult and sensitive matters needed to be handled well, and was an outstanding representative of the Department and what it stood for,” Mr. Cole wrote.
In the 1990s, Mr. Rosenstein was among the team of prosecutors appointed by Kenneth Starr to investigate the Whitewater real estate dealings of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He had moved on before the investigation focused on Monica Lewinsky’s relationship with President Clinton.
In 2012, he was named by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to investigate leaks of classified information. The probe led to retired Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright’s guilty plea on making false statements about a covert U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Obama pardoned Cartwright before he left office this year.
Speaking about Mr. Rosenstein before the special counsel decision was announced, former acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford said the deputy has a “30-year track record as a consummate professional and straight shooter.”
“He calls balls and strikes as he sees them,” said Mr. Morford, who served under President George W. Bush between 2007 and 2008. “He will determine what is in the best interest of Department of Justice in the protocols and rules.
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