Rod Rosenstein, who recommended to President Trump that he fire FBI Director James Comey, is widely respected by both career civil servants and members of both political parties.
The Justice Department's newly appointed deputy attorney general earned praise from Democrats during confirmation hearings earlier this year before getting overwhelming approval, 94-6, in the Senate.
At no point in those hearings was Rosenstein asked whether he felt that Comey was up to the task of leading the FBI throughout multiple, highly politicized investigations. Democrats did press him, repeatedly, to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of Russian influence on the U.S. presidential election and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for example, said that Rosenstein has “impressive credentials” and she does not question his “integrity.” But she said: “We need steel spines and there is a real danger the Justice Department could become politicized.”
So it came as a surprise to some when his letter explaining his decision regarding Comey pointed at the former FBI director’s questionable handling of the Clinton probe.
“I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails,” Rosenstein wrote, “and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”
Interviews with former colleagues and attorneys who know Rosenstein professionally all say he is a prosecutor who is working to defend the integrity and the independence of the Justice Department.
Rosenstein has a long track record in high-profile cases that bolster his reputation for independence.
As a young attorney in the 1990s, Rosenstein was tapped to join Kenneth Starr’s team of prosecutors investigating shady Clinton real estate dealings in Arkansas.
Attorney Megan Brown worked with Rosenstein at DOJ and in the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office.
“I lived through incredibly stressful situations at the senior levels of DOJ firsthand. He can lead and make the tough calls,” Brown, who now works in private practice in Washington, D.C., told Fox News. “He's unflappable, with rock-solid ethics.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Rosenstein to investigate who was leaking classified information about the Obama administration’s role in cyberattacks against Iran. The DOJ later attained a guilty plea from retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright for making false statements about a covert cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The New York Times decried the result, saying it would have a chilling effect on government employees leaking to the press.
Outside the Beltway scandals, Rosenstein also has prosecuted local corruption cases, including against former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, who received a seven-year term for extortion and for witness and evidence tampering. Rosenstein also has prosecuted allegedly corrupt Baltimore cops, along with vicious gangs like MS-13.
“The Maryland criminal defense bar knows that knowing Rod will get you nowhere when it comes to trying to influence decisions in his office. He simply does what is right and just and does not take personal relationships into account,” said Baltimore criminal defense attorney Steve Silverman, who has known Rosenstein professionally for years.