Rosenstein to Exit Justice Department as New AG Steps In

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. The Justice Department is charging two Chinese citizens with carrying out an extensive hacking campaign to steal data from U.S. companies. An indictment was unsealed Thursday against Zhu Hua and Zhang Shillong. Court papers filed in Manhattan federal court allege the hackers were able to breach the computers of more than 45 entities in 12 states. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Considered a longtime thorn in the president’s side for having appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is set to step down next month.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed Rosenstein’s departure Wednesday morning, telling reporters that the plan had been in place for some time.

Though anonymous sources told the Associated Press that Rosenstein’s departure will closely follow the confirmation of William Barr as attorney general, Sanders said Rosenstein will stay on to help during the transition.

“He wants to allow [the new AG] make a new team,” Sanders said. 

Barr served as attorney general under the late former President George H.W. Bush and has been publicly critical in recent years of the probe by Special Counsel Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

In July 2017, after it was revealed that seven of 15 attorneys working on the Russia investigation had donated to Democratic political campaigns over the years, Barr aired his grievances in an interview for The Washington Post.

More recently the Wall Street Journal published details of an “unsolicited,” 20-page memo Barr sent to the DOJ in which he said Mueller’s investigation was “premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law” and “would do lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive branch.” 

Given that he is not privy to facts known by the DOJ or Mueller, Barr emphasized that his opinion is based on facts known to the public. 

He argued that it was outside the DOJ’s power to compel Trump to testify, and also made the case that Trump cannot be charged with obstruction of justice if he is “carrying out his duties as authorized by the constitution.” 

Barr allowed that such charges could be levied against a president if he destroyed evidence or told a witness to lie on his behalf. 

Representatives at the Department of Justice did not return a request for comment. Since Dec. 22, 2018, the agency has been one of several not operating at regular capacity because of the government shutdown.

Following his removal of Jeff Sessions shortly after the midterm elections last year, President Donald Trump named then-Chief of Staff Matt Whitaker to hold the office in the interim.

Sanders was oblique when asked how Rosenstein’s resignation could impact the Mueller investigation.

“The Russia investigation has gone on for two years and we have not interfered at any point,” she said.

“We have seen the same thing that we saw when it first started two years ago, that there was nothing, that the president has done nothing wrong,” she added.

The news of Rosenstein’s resignation comes on the heels of the filing of a poorly redacted court brief in the case against Trump’s convicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The motion divulges for the first time allegations that Manafort shared internal polling data with a Russian company involved in manipulating the 2016 race, following claims from Mueller’s team that Manafort lied despite his promise to cooperate. 

Along with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, Manafort faces scrutiny by Mueller over his Trump Tower meeting ahead of the election with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

On Wednesday Veselnitskaya was indicted by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for obstruction of justice. The same office prosecuted former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who implicated Trump as part of his guilty plea with having coordinated and directed hush-money payments of $130,000 to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — meant to prevent both women from speaking about their alleged affairs with Trump.  

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