Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation and acted as its defender before critics in Congress and the White House, plans to leave the Justice Department once William Barr is confirmed as attorney general, ABC News reported Wednesday. The Senate could confirm Barr in the next few weeks.
According to multiple reports, Rosenstein had planned to leave after two years in office and is not being forced out by the president. When Rosenstein leaves, Barr, if confirmed, will likely take over the job of overseeing the Mueller investigation.
This is not the first time talk of Rosenstein’s departure has surfaced. Rosenstein became a target of President Donald Trump’s ire after Jeff Sessions recused himself in 2017 from overseeing the Russia investigation and the task was handed down. Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in May 2017.
In September, the New York Times reported that Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th Amendment process for removing the president, along with the idea of secretly recording Trump. (Rosenstein denied the reports and said he had been speaking sarcastically.) Rumors circled that Rosenstein would resign or be fired, but he remained in office.
In November, Trump fired Jeff Sessions, causing some to again speculate that Rosenstein would leave soon afterward. Instead, he remained as Matthew Whitaker served as acting attorney general. While Whitaker took over the task of overseeing the Mueller investigation, Rosenstein has continued to manage it day to day.
In late November, Trump retweeted a meme showing Rosenstein behind bars. When asked about it, the president said that Rosenstein “should have never picked a special counsel.”
When Rosenstein leaves and William Barr takes over, the investigation could again find itself in danger. In a memo to the DOJ last year, Barr wrote that the investigation was “fatally misconceived” and that Mueller’s legal reasoning was “grossly irresponsible.”
According to ABC News, Rosenstein has already communicated his plan to leave office to the president. He has also signaled he would be willing to remain in office for a short period after Barr’s confirmation to help with the transition. Barr’s Senate confirmation will begin on Jan. 15, and a confirmation vote could happen as early as mid-February.