Next in line to lead Rus­sia probe has re­spect

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Rosen­stein served Bush, Obama both.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Eric Tucker

Some Democrats worry that the ap­point­ment of a Jeff Ses­sions sub­or­di­nate to over­see an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion won’t be a clean enough break from the em­bat­tled at­tor­ney gen­eral.

But the vet­eran pros­e­cu­tor in line for the job might be uniquely po­lit­i­cally palat­able.

Rod Rosen­stein, who faces his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing next week for the role of deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, was ap­pointed top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Mary­land by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and re­mained in the post for the en­tire Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. That stay­ing power, ex­tra­or­di­nary for a po­si­tion that rou­tinely turns over with changes in the White House, lends weight to the rep­u­ta­tion he’s cul­ti­vated as an apo­lit­i­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cial.

“He is so well re­spected. He can­not be in­flu­enced, he can­not be bought, he can­not be pres­sured be­cause of out­side po­lit­i­cal forces,” said Bal­ti­more crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney Steven Sil­ver­man, who has known Rosen­stein for years.

Ses­sions re­cused him­self from any Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion Thurs­day after the Jus­tice Depart­ment ac­knowl­edged he had spo­ken twice with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador last year and had failed to dis­close the con­tacts dur­ing his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion process. Ses­sions said he had not tried to mis­lead any­one but could have been more care­ful in his an­swers.

The new at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­cusal handed author­ity for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion — for now — to his deputy, Dana Boente, an­other long­time fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. Once con­firmed, Rosen­stein will take re­spon­si­bil­ity for any probes into the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sian med­dling.

He ar­rives at the Jus­tice Depart­ment with ex­pe­ri­ence in po­lit­i­cally freighted in­ves­ti­ga­tions, hav­ing ear­lier in his ca­reer been part of the Clin­ton-era White­wa­ter in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

When he was a U.S. at­tor­ney, his of­fice also led the leak pros­e­cu­tion of Thomas Drake, a for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency of­fi­cial who pleaded guilty to a mi­nor mis­de­meanor after more se­ri­ous charges of mis­han­dling doc­u­ments were dropped. He more re­cently over­saw the probe of James Cartwright, the for­mer Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chair­man who ad­mit­ted mak­ing false state­ments dur­ing a sep­a­rate leak in­ves­ti­ga­tion and was ul­ti­mately par­doned by Obama.

“It’s hard to imag­ine a more chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment in which to come in as the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral than what we have now,” said Jason We­in­stein, who served un­der Rosen­stein in the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Mary­land. “Hav­ing said that, I can’t imag­ine a bet­ter per­son for the job right now than Rod.”

Re­gard­less, the Ses­sions re­cusal did lit­tle to as­suage de­mands from some Democrats that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be re­moved en­tirely from the Jus­tice Depart­ment and given to an out­side pros­e­cu­tor.

There is prece­dent for the se­lec­tion of a spe­cial coun­sel by the Jus­tice Depart­ment for es­pe­cially sen­si­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions, though there’s no in­di­ca­tion yet that fed­eral of­fi­cials are plan­ning to seek such an ap­point­ment.

One prom­i­nent ex­am­ple was in 2003, when the Bush Jus­tice Depart­ment turned to Pa­trick Fitzgerald, then the top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Chicago, to in­ves­ti­gate who leaked the iden­tity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA of­fi­cer. That ap­point­ment was made by James Comey, who at the time was deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral and now is di­rec­tor of the FBI.

Rod Rosen­stein is a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Mary­land.

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