President Trump’s deputy attorney general nominee has just been catapulted into the national spotlight.
With Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSessions: Dems will pass anything ‘as long as it doesn’t work’ This week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight Week ahead: US raises pressure on WikiLeaks MORE’s decision Thursday to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s connections to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBloomberg: Countries should continue climate work despite Trump GOP rep: Funding bill could include Trump's border wall Dems: Trump’s first 100 days full of broken promises to middle class MORE's presidential campaign, focus is turning to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) secondary leaders.
Sessions’s recusal comes just a few days ahead of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing for deputy attorney general pick Rod Rosenstein — who may ultimately make decisions about a DOJ probe into Russia.
Rosenstein is also the nation’s longest serving U.S. attorney.
In 2007, Bush nominated Rosenstein to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, but he never got a hearing or a vote in the Senate.
Maryland’s Democratic senators at the time — Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiDems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? DC restaurant owners sue Trump hotel over unfair competition: report MORE and Ben CardinBen CardinLawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March Live coverage: March for Science rally is underway Dems outraged over Spicer's Holocaust remarks MORE — argued then that he lacked a background in state legal experience and said he was doing such a good job in his post that he shouldn’t be elevated to the federal bench, which hears appeals from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and federal administrative agencies.
The Washington Post called those arguments unpersuasive in a 2007 editorial and dubbed Rosenstein “a worthy nominee.”
After graduating form Harvard Law School, Rosenstein clerked for Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit before joining the DOJ in 1990.
He was on the team of prosecutors handling the Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWeek ahead: US raises pressure on WikiLeaks Poll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again OMB director: Government shutdown not a 'desired end' MORE’s Arkansas business dealings in the mid-1990s, according to a Washington Post 2011 profile, and has spent his career as a federal prosecutor cracking down on gang violence and public corruption.
On Tuesday, Rosenstein will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to face sharp questions from ranking Democrat Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinThis week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight Hotel industry details plans to fight Airbnb Congress needs a do-over on fraud-laden 'Immigrant Investor' program MORE (Calif.) and Sens. Al FrankenAl FrankenTwitter jumps on news of O'Reilly's ouster Senate Dems seek review of products linked to tax refunds House Democrat introduces bill to amend presidential removal procedures MORE (D-Minn.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalThis week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight Dem senator rips Sessions’s ‘really bizarre’ Hawaii remark House panel to hold hearing on airline consumer issues MORE (D-Conn.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Top Dem: Shutdown over border wall would be 'height of irresponsibility' Sunday shows preview: Trump stares down 100-day mark MORE (D-Ill.) about how he might handle investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or ties to the Trump campaign.
A timeline for final confirmation of Rosenstein is unclear. Should the DOJ launch an investigation into Trump campaign connections to Russia before he is sworn in to his new role, acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente would helm the probe.
Trump appointed Boente in late January after firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates hours after she refused to defend his controversial travel ban.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, doubts Rosenstein will have any trouble getting the simple majority vote he needs for confirmation.
“Always in the past, the deputy attorney general has been someone who’s very active in Democratic or Republican politics, who doesn’t have what Rosenstein brings, which is a longer view and an independence, professionalism and an understanding of the department and how it’s operated,” he said.
“I think he’s a nice pick, especially with Sessions as a more political pick at the top. It’s a good balance.”
Democrats say Sessions’s recusal is not enough and are calling for him to resign following accusations that he lied under oath.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Sessions spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. That contradicts what Sessions told Franken during his confirmation hearing, when the Minnesota senator asked what he would do if he saw evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 presidential race.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions, a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at the time. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
The attorney general doubled-down on that answer Thursday, saying his reply to Franken’s question “was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.”
“I appreciate that some have taken the view that this was a false comment. That is not my intent. That is not correct,” he said. “I will write the Judiciary Committee soon, today or tomorrow, to explain this testimony for the record.”
In recusing himself from any investigations, Sessions said he is upholding a promise he made during his confirmation hearings.
The FBI is reportedly investigating contact between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign, but no formal charges have been brought.
Any decisions about whether to bring charges will fall to Rosenstein once he’s confirmed.