Top current and former Justice Department leadership praised Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his “exceptional” leadership throughout the Russia investigation at his send-off ceremony Thursday, marking the conclusion of his nearly 30-year tenure at the agency.
Rosenstein was honored at the Robert F. Kennedy Building Thursday, following submitting his resignation to President Trump last month. Rosenstein sat on stage between Attorney General Bill Barr, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director Christopher Wray—all of whom touted Rosenstein’s record and character throughout his career, but specifically over the last two years.
“Rod, you did your duty as it fell upon you,” Sessions, who resigned last year after the midterm elections, said on Thursday. “You didn’t ask for it—that’s for sure.”
Rosenstein, 54, previously served as deputy assistant attorney general and a U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland. But during the Trump administration, he became deputy attorney general to Sessions. Rosenstein ultimately took oversight of the Russia investigation upon Sessions’ recusal in early 2017 due to his work with the Trump campaign.
Sessions added that Rosenstein “didn’t start” the investigation, and noted that sometimes, “these things just become unstoppable.”
“Decisions had to be made, and those decisions fell to him,” Sessions continued, adding that decisions were made “all in accordance with procedures of the Justice Department.”
“Rod understood better than most that justice would be best served by appointing a special counsel.”
He added: “You have honorably overseen this process, which has affirmed the rule of law and achieved a degree of justice.”
Sessions called Rosenstein a “friend and a loyal partner,” and reminisced on their “many wonderful times" together.
Wray also praised Rosenstein and thanked him for his “dedication and service."
“I have been grateful for Rod’s counsel and support,” Wray said. “A friend whose service has weathered the test of time.”
Rosenstein submitted his resignation following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Rosenstein worked alongside Barr and Mueller, to determine which portions of the report could be released to Congress and to the public, and which needed redactions to protect sources and methods and grand jury material.
Barr himself has fallen under intense scrutiny over the handling of the report. The House Judiciary Committee this week voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena for the full Mueller report and underlying documents.
But Barr praised Rosenstein on Thursday and said he has been “fortunate” to work with him.
“It’s been a real privilege and pleasure to have him with me these last several weeks,” Barr said, adding that Rosenstein has “exceptional intelligence, sound judgment crafted from experience, composure even amid scrutiny” and an “upbeat spirit” and “sense of humor.”
“He is an exceptional leader,” Barr said and presented Rosenstein with a flag that was flown above the main Justice Department.
Rosenstein fell into the political crosshairs throughout his tenure and was on the receiving end of the president’s ire over the Russia investigation.
Early on in his oversight of the probe, on May 8, 2017, at his recommendation, Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Just a week later, Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller and took oversight of that probe until November 2018, when former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker took over.
Rumors of Rosenstein’s resignation, or even firing, swirled for months—especially after Trump accused him of pursuing a “treasonous” plot against him. Last year, a report revealed that during a meeting, Rosenstein suggested wearing a “wire” to record the president - some of those there said he was joking - and suggested invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. The meeting reportedly took place in the days after Comey’s firing.
Fox News learned that the meeting included several high-profile FBI officials, including former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI counsel Lisa Page on May 16, 2017. Mueller was appointed as special counsel the following day. Rosenstein, though, repeatedly denied pursuing a recording of the president and pushed back on claims of considering invoking the amendment.
But last month, Rosenstein officially resigned, and thanked Trump for “the opportunity to serve; for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations; and for the goals you set in your inaugural address: patriotism, unity, safety, education, and prosperity, because ‘a nation exists to serve its citizens.’”
On Thursday, after thanking his Justice Department colleagues, Rosenstein took the podium and said: “I leave here confident that justice is in good hands. It’s in your hands.”
Fox News’ John Roberts, Nicole Darrah, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.