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Rod Rosenstein maintains a 'strange calm' under fire from Congress, White House

Rod Rosenstein goes to work every day knowing that it could be his last as the deputy attorney general.Congres...

Posted: May 11, 2018 12:26 PM
Updated: May 11, 2018 12:26 PM

Rod Rosenstein goes to work every day knowing that it could be his last as the deputy attorney general.

Congressional Republicans are threatening to impeach him for failing to turn over an unredacted version of his 2017 memo laying out the scope of the special counsel's investigation. President Donald Trump has called the Department of Justice's handling of the Russia probe -- which Rosenstein supervises -- a "witch hunt" while threatening via tweet that "at some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved."

Trump went on to call the FBI raid last month on the offices of his personal attorney Michael Cohen -- which Rosenstein could have stopped but didn't -- a "disgraceful situation." Finally, the President's response to the direct question of whether he was planning to fire Rosenstein didn't provide a lot of job security: "You figure that one out."

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Yet people close to Rosenstein say he is staying cool in the midst of the storm.

"He's like shockingly fatalistic," said friend Jim Trusty, an attorney at Ifrah Law in Washington who's a former Justice Department colleague of Rosenstein's. "There's a strange calm to Rod in terms of this fire. I think everyone around him is freaking out, but he just kind of rides through it and says, 'I'm going to keep doing my job as best I can.' "

Rosenstein's own take on his predicament came at a congressional hearing in December, when he was asked by Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, if he was afraid of Trump firing him. "No, I'm not, congressman," Rosenstein replied after a chuckle.

But there was nothing humorous about his response to his House Republican critics earlier this month: "There have been people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time, and I think they should understand by now that the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted."

On the Russia investigation itself, though, Rosenstein has remained silent, and he declined to be interviewed for this article.

"With Rod, if you scratch the surface, then you get more surface. But that's him. He is inscrutable publicly. Professionally, he is devastatingly effective. He is methodical. He is thorough," said Andy White, a close Rosenstein friend and former colleague.

Lifelong Justice Department official

Since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1989, Rosenstein has spent his entire career at the Justice Department: first at department headquarters as a prosecutor in the Public Integrity section and then in various other departments. In 2005 he was appointed US attorney for Maryland by George W. Bush, where he supervised cases ranging from MS-13 gang crimes to terrorism to public corruption.

"He's been aggressive, and he has not shied away from the political spotlight when it comes to prosecutorial decisions and building cases and convicting people that might be very popular and very unpopular," Trusty said.

Rosenstein was known in the US attorney's office for his skills arguing before a jury and for something more unusual: sending informational memos to his staff before federal holidays.

"We used to always get these emails in the US attorney's office like 'Here's what happened in 1812 and this is why we're taking the day off,' " Trusty said. "He's very academic and very philosophical. He's a historian."

Trump appointed Rosenstein as deputy attorney general in April 2017 and he was confirmed 94-6 by the Senate. Back then, he was a White House favorite.

"He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him," Trump told NBC last May. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called him "essentially the gold standard at the Department of Justice."

The Comey memo

His reputation with Republicans was buoyed by his now well-known memo -- written after just two weeks on the job -- criticizing then-FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The memo called Comey's actions "a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do," and Trump fired Comey the same day he received it.

It's unclear just how Rosenstein anticipated his memo being used in the President's justification to remove Comey, especially after Trump decided to publicly release it.

"I think he had to know it was going to be used in some degree. I don't think that he realized that the President was going to put Greyhound bus tracks on his back with that memo," White said. "I don't think that he realized it was going to be used in that way."

For his part, Rosenstein testified before Congress last May that his memo was the result of "long-standing concerns" about Comey's actions, adding, "My memorandum is not a press release. It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI director's public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation. ... I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it."

But those close to Comey, like former aide Josh Campbell, don't see Rosenstein's intentions as quite so pure, noting that Rosenstein knew of Trump's desire to fire Comey when he wrote the memo. "I think the motive [was] to keep his job," Campbell said.

Rosenstein's controversial part in the Comey firing would pale in comparison to the role he could be forced to play in another possible firing at the Department of Justice: that of special counsel Robert Mueller. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Rosenstein appointed Mueller -- and is now the man standing between Trump and any move to fire the special counsel.

"If [Trump] asks Rod to fire Mr. Mueller, Rod would resign. That's my guess," White said. "Because at that point, it is untenable. You have a President who is not respecting the process and not respecting the Constitution."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 343505

Reported Deaths: 7543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23932444
DeSoto23229283
Harrison20527329
Rankin15411291
Jackson15232252
Madison10959227
Lee10719179
Jones9047169
Forrest8723159
Lauderdale7884244
Lowndes7054151
Lamar702989
Lafayette6548124
Washington5595139
Pearl River5196152
Bolivar4954134
Oktibbeha494398
Panola4771112
Warren4728128
Marshall4701106
Pontotoc447773
Union433279
Monroe4330137
Neshoba4281181
Hancock428088
Lincoln4176116
Pike3667113
Leflore3627125
Tate353388
Alcorn350974
Sunflower347694
Scott341176
Adams340988
Yazoo339376
Copiah324968
Simpson322891
Itawamba314680
Coahoma314085
Tippah306568
Prentiss298863
Covington293484
Leake285475
Marion284181
Wayne277543
George272251
Grenada269488
Newton262364
Tishomingo239770
Winston236784
Jasper230648
Stone229637
Attala226373
Chickasaw219060
Holmes200174
Clay197654
Clarke186880
Tallahatchie183742
Calhoun181332
Smith179235
Yalobusha171540
Walthall145748
Lawrence142826
Greene140134
Amite137543
Noxubee135235
Perry133538
Montgomery133044
Carroll126431
Webster121232
Jefferson Davis116734
Tunica114227
Benton106725
Claiborne105331
Kemper102429
Humphreys100133
Franklin87923
Quitman84719
Choctaw82619
Wilkinson78032
Jefferson71328
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 585607

Reported Deaths: 11536
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson851431591
Mobile48584864
Madison37411533
Shelby27192257
Tuscaloosa27145465
Montgomery26119627
Baldwin25207329
Lee17184181
Calhoun15382334
Morgan15147291
Etowah14928370
Marshall13079235
Houston12021293
Elmore10890219
St. Clair10737252
Limestone10699158
Cullman10503205
Lauderdale10240254
DeKalb9498192
Talladega8935188
Walker7775288
Autauga7537114
Jackson7384117
Blount7352139
Colbert6691142
Coffee6342132
Dale5605117
Russell478943
Chilton4763117
Covington4738125
Franklin456681
Tallapoosa4511156
Escambia439283
Chambers3936125
Dallas3742163
Clarke370563
Marion3455107
Pike332079
Lawrence3257100
Winston298373
Bibb289765
Geneva282883
Marengo262267
Barbour250661
Pickens245262
Butler240172
Hale235178
Fayette226765
Henry212845
Monroe201541
Randolph200344
Cherokee198848
Washington184339
Macon169752
Crenshaw167758
Clay165659
Cleburne161145
Lamar150938
Lowndes145355
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh120632
Coosa118129
Perry110328
Sumter110333
Greene99137
Choctaw64425
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