Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will soon leave the Justice Department that he joined as a newly minted lawyer nearly 30 years ago. He is, by all accounts, a skillful attorney who spearheaded a number of successful public corruption prosecutions and won widespread respect from members of both parties en route. But as is often the case, he will be remembered best for the worst moments of his career: his letter providing a cover story for the firing of FBI Director James Comey; his baffling failure to recuse himself from the special counsel’s probe into possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump; and his wingman role in Attorney General William Barr’s bid to make Trump’s obstruction issues melt away.
Before he became the Justice Department’s second-in-command under Trump, Rosenstein’s long tenure at the department looked like a public service success story. He joined the Justice Department at age 25, fresh from a D.C. Circuit clerkship and just one year out of Harvard Law School. President George W. Bush named him U.S. attorney for Maryland in 2005, and President Barack Obama asked him to remain at that post, making Rosenstein the only Bush-appointed U.S. attorney whom Obama retained. Though a registered Republican, he won the admiration of Maryland’s U.S. senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both of whom are Democrats. When Trump nominated him as deputy attorney general, Cardin said that Rosenstein “has demonstrated throughout his long career the highest standards of professionalism.” Van Hollen praised him as a “top-notch lawyer” with a “record and reputation of serving justice.” At a time when virtually everyone in American political life was associated either with Team Red or Team Blue, Rosenstein appeared to be one of the few figures with bipartisan bona fides.
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