The man who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel is making his exit.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to step down from his position as the Justice Department’s second-in-command after nominee William Barr is confirmed as attorney general, a source familiar with the matter told the Daily News.
Rosenstein — long seen as the highest ranking protector of the Mueller-led investigation into President Trump’s campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election — has already shared his plans with the president and other administration officials, the Associated Press reported.
Barr, nominated by Trump to replace the ousted Jeff Sessions, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing next week and could be in place at the DOJ as soon as February.
“There is no set date but he always saw this as a two year stint,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal matters, told The News. “Once William Barr has been confirmed, he will help with the transition and step down.”
The federal probe into election interference has defined Rosenstein’s tenure as the department’s No.2 since Sessions recused himself due to his connections to the Trump campaign and his deputy appointed Mueller to oversee the investigation in May 2017.
Rosenstein and his chief deputy have maintained day-to-day oversight over the probe, a senior Justice Department official said last month. Barr would take over control should he be confirmed by the Senate, assuming the same final say over major investigative steps that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has had since November.
ABC News first reported Rosenstein’s planned departure.
Mueller’s appointment, following Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, and the ongoing probe, which has so far resulted in dozens of indictments and plea deals with several Trump campaign aides for a variety of charges, have led the President to repeatedly accuse his own DOJ of political bias.
Trump has labeled the probe a “witch hunt” and denies any wrongdoing.
“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 in April. “Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”
Trump also retweeted an image that was edited to show Rosenstein, Mueller, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and others behind prison bars in November.
The tension between the White House and the DOJ prompted repeated speculation that Rosenstein’s time would be limited.
The 53-year-old former United States attorney in Maryland showed up at the White House in September expecting to be fired following a New York Times report that he raised the idea of recording Trump in secret two weeks after he took over the deputy attorney general role. Rosenstein denied the report.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News on Wednesday that Rosenstein had always planned to stay around two years.
“I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out,” Sanders said. “My guess is he is making room for the new attorney general to build a team that he wants around him.”
The transition to Barr could coincide with a critical period for the Mueller probe. President Trump’s legal team submitted answers to written questions late last year.
His former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, also pleaded guilty to a range of crime, including paying a pair of women alleging affairs with the President to keep quiet while Trump was running for office. Cohen implicated Trump in the scheme.
The special counsel’s office is also expected to report its findings to the Justice Department.
Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, has publicly questioned the scope of the Mueller investigation. Last year, he sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department last year.
At a news conference in December, Rosenstein said that Mueller’s investigation would be “handled appropriately” no matter who is overseeing it. He added that Barr would be an “excellent attorney general when he is confirmed.”
© 2019 New York Daily News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.