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January 9, 2019 12:53 pm

Rosenstein, Overseer of Russia Probe, Set to Depart Justice Department Post

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Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Photo: Reuters / Leah Millis / File.

Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who oversees the probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 US election and faced criticism from President Donald Trump, is preparing to leave his job soon as Trump’s nominee for attorney general gets ready to take office, a department official said on Wednesday.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, told reporters that William Barr, Trump’s nominee to serve as the top US law enforcement official, told him Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation would continue if he is confirmed as attorney general.

“I can assure you he has a very high opinion of Mr. Mueller and he is committed to letting Mr. Mueller finish his job,” Graham said.

Rosenstein‘s impending departure as the department’s No. 2 official may raise the stakes for Barr, who already has come under fire from Democrats for his criticism of Mueller’s probe and whether a sitting president can be charged with obstruction of justice.

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Rosenstein, who was appointed by Trump as deputy attorney general, named Mueller to head the Russia probe in 2017 after Trump fired FBI chief James Comey. He has long overseen the investigation and has frequently drawn Trump’s ire.

The department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is no specific time table for Rosenstein‘s departure and that he plans to leave sometime after Barr’s confirmation in the Republican-led Senate. Rosenstein will stay on to ensure a smooth transition for Barr, the official said, adding that Rosenstein has viewed his current job as a two-year stint and is not being forced out.

Barr met with Republican lawmakers as he works to build support for Senate confirmation as the top US law enforcement official, and is slated to meet with the panel’s top Democrat on Thursday, according to a department official.

Trump nominated Barr after firing Jeff Sessions as attorney general following the November midterm congressional elections in which Democrats made gains.

Mueller is investigating potential conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia as well as whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has called the investigation, which potentially threatens his presidency, a “rigged witch hunt.”

Rosenstein assumed oversight of the Russia probe in 2017.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings next week for Barr.

If confirmed, Barr, who previously served as US attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush, would oversee the Mueller investigation.

‘Push him out’

Asked about Rosenstein‘s departure, first reported by ABC News, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she had not spoken to Rosenstein and would leave any announced departures to him or the president.

“Certainly, I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out,” Sanders told Fox News.

Rosenstein remained in the post after Trump named political loyalist Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general in November. Democrats have called Whitaker a political hack and several legal challenges have been brought against his appointment.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray told Reuters, “Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein did a good job. Who replaces him will be extremely critical.”

Barr’s nomination is likely to meet heavy scrutiny regarding the Russia investigation, particularly from Democrats, following reports he had written a memo in June questioning the probe. Rosenstein has said the memo had no impact on the department’s work.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said last month that Barr’s memo should disqualify him from serving as attorney general.

Trump has criticized Rosenstein numerous times.

In November, the president said Rosenstein “should have never picked a special counsel” to investigate the Russia matter and retweeted an image depicting Rosenstein and several other current and former officials in a prison cell.

Trump has denied collusion with Moscow. Russia has also denied election interference. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States during the 2016 race and help Trump defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

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