Rod Rosenstein is ready to jump. The deputy attorney general, who has run the Justice Department’s day-to-day operations for most of the Trump presidency, submitted his resignation to the White House on Monday. The letter said he will stay on until May 11.
In the letter, Rosenstein thanked President Donald Trump—who once retweeted a picture of him behind bars—for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations.”
Rosenstein also made what appears to be a vague allusion to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. “Our nation is safer, our elections are more secure, and our citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence efforts and schemes to commit fraud, steal intellectual property, and launch cyberattacks,” he wrote.
Rosenstein also noted that he has served in that role for longer than most people who hold it.
At the end of the letter, he discussed the importance of protecting the Department from political influence—which Trump himself has often tried to exert, as the Mueller Report detailed.
“[T]he Department bears a special responsibility to avoid partisanship,” he wrote. “Political considerations may influence policy choices, but neutral principles must drive decisions about individual cases.”
And he ended with a vague reference to the news, which has so frequently featured him as a central character.
“We enforce the law without fear or favor because credible evidence is not partisan, and truth is not determined by opinion polls,” he added. “We ignore fleeting distractions and focus our attention on the things that matter, because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle.”
During his time at the department, Rosenstein oversaw the Mueller probe— one of the most contentious, sensitive investigations in its history. Over the course of the investigation, he became something of a folk hero to Trump’s political opponents, who saw him as an icon of nonpartisan law enforcement, standing up for Mueller’s team against Trump’s attempts to hinder and shutter it. When he appeared at the Aspen Security Forum last summer—an event that brings together national security elites, along with current and former government officials—he received a standing ovation.
Trump relished ripping into Rosenstein, suggesting he was to blame him in part for the tension between the United States and Russia.
“Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama,” the president tweeted on April 11, 2018. “Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”
He tweeted on Feb. 18, 2019, that Rosenstein appeared to have planned “a very illegal act.” And on Dec. 27, 2018, he noted that Rosenstein signed one of the affidavits requesting authorization of surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. “Isn’t Rod therefore totally conflicted?” Trump asked rhetorically.
But Trump’s tweets about Rosenstein weren’t all bad. On April 28, 2018, the president pushed back against a Washington Post story reporting that he called Rosenstein “Mr. Peepers.”
Rosenstein’s reputation with the #Resistance took a hit after Mueller finished his probe. When Attorney General Bill Barr released a four-page summary of the report that turned out to be misleading and distortive, Rosenstein made no public comment. He also stood behind Barr during a now-notorious press conference that preceded the public release of the report, widely viewed as an effort on the attorney general’s part to run interference for the White House.
And just days ago, The Washington Post reported that Rosenstein promised Trump he could “land the plane” of the Mueller probe, in an apparent bid to save his job.
“Rosenstein may have avoided a possible Trump firing, and ‘landed the plane,’ but the rule of law is in a downward spiral,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), presidential candidate and member of the House Intelligence and House Judiciary committees, both of which do Justice Department oversight. “There are serious questions about Rosenstein’s judgment and whether he acted independently while he was telling the president he was on his team. I expect we will hear from him in Congress.”
“Rosenstein did some good things in two years as DAG, as would be expected by those who knew his legacy in Maryland. But nobody gets out alive,” said a Justice Department official who requested anonymity. “He’ll be remembered as someone who mitigated, but could not stop, the president’s attacks on the rule of law, while agreeing to various compromises along the way. Those compromises humiliated him personally and did untold damage to our institutions for the future. He’ll nevertheless be missed by prosecutors because neither Barr, nor Rod’s replacement, nor the chief of the criminal division, have a lick of prosecutorial experience.”
Sol Wisenberg, a friend of Rosenstein’s who worked with him during Ken Starr’s investigation of the Clinton White House, said it was inevitable that his fans on the left would turn on him.
“If you inadvertently do that anything legally that is seen as pro-Trump, irrespective of the merits of it, you’re going to be attacked,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani—the president’s personal lawyer for the last year of the Mueller investigation—told The Daily Beast Rosenstein was always professional with him.
“I never had a problem with Rod, ever,” he said. “In my dealings with the Justice Department, which were fairly limited in representing the president, I always found them to be fair and to be very professional in how they handled things.”
Giuliani added that he doesn’t have enough information to have an opinion on the allegations that many on the right level against Rosenstein regarding the FISA application.
“All I can tell you is from my experience,” he said. “I believe they always treated us fairly and right down the middle.”
“He was running it,” Giuliani added. “If he was going to get blamed, he’s got to get credit.”
Many Washington legal insiders have held a more nuanced view of Rosenstein than his fans in the #Resistance. In some quarters, he’s viewed as a survivor who managed to please elected officials on both sides of the aisle because of his political savvy.
Rosenstein hasn’t publicly confirmed his future plans.
“Hopefully he’s going to make a bunch of money,” Wisenberg said. “He’s got a stellar professional record. I’m sure he’ll go to a reputable firm and make a boatload of money, and maybe even write a book—though I doubt, knowing Rod, I doubt he will write a book.”