Meet the Trump pick who could lead Russia probe

President Trump’s deputy attorney general nominee has just been catapulted into the national spotlight.

With Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump and Russia: A timeline on communications Hispanic Dems demand meeting with Sessions Justice Department to seek Supreme Court review in Trump travel ban case MORE’s decision Thursday to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s connections to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House is 'not going to comment on Jared’ Kushner Clinton returns to election night convention hall to talk about her new book Trump's sons, daughter-in-law huddled with RNC leaders to discuss strategy: report MORE's presidential campaign, focus is turning to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) secondary leaders.

Sessions’s recusal comes just a few days ahead of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing for deputy attorney general pick Rod Rosenstein — who may ultimately make decisions about a DOJ probe into Russia.

ADVERTISEMENT
The U.S. attorney for Maryland is a George W. Bush appointee who was confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate in 2005 and was one of only three Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys — out of 93 nationwide — kept on by the Obama administration, according to The Washington Post.

Rosenstein is also the nation’s longest serving U.S. attorney.

In 2007, Bush nominated Rosenstein to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, but he never got a hearing or a vote in the Senate.

Maryland’s Democratic senators at the time — Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE and Ben CardinBen CardinSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Worries mount about vacancies in Trump's State Department Pence marks Armed Forces Day with vow to rebuild military MORE — argued then that he lacked a background in state legal experience and said he was doing such a good job in his post that he shouldn’t be elevated to the federal bench, which hears appeals from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and federal administrative agencies.

The Washington Post called those arguments unpersuasive in a 2007 editorial and dubbed Rosenstein “a worthy nominee.”

After graduating form Harvard Law School, Rosenstein clerked for Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit before joining the DOJ in 1990.

He was on the team of prosecutors handling the Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton returns to election night convention hall to talk about her new book Biden jabs at Trump in Cornell commencement speech Hollywood's war on Trump is part of liberal America's 'resistance' MORE’s Arkansas business dealings in the mid-1990s, according to a Washington Post 2011 profile, and has spent his career as a federal prosecutor cracking down on gang violence and public corruption.

On Tuesday, Rosenstein will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to face sharp questions from ranking Democrat Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (Calif.) and Sens. Al FrankenAl FrankenTrump and Russia: A timeline on communications Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate gears up for fight on Trump's 0B Saudi Arabia arms sale MORE (D-Minn.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalSenators push for enhanced powers to battle botnets Five things to know about Joe Lieberman Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise MORE (D-Conn.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's 12:30 Report Top House, Senate Dems ask Interior not to eliminate national monuments Dem senators accuse Trump of purposefully holding back information MORE (D-Ill.) about how he might handle investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or ties to the Trump campaign.

A timeline for final confirmation of Rosenstein is unclear. Should the DOJ launch an investigation into Trump campaign connections to Russia before he is sworn in to his new role, acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente would helm the probe.

Trump appointed Boente in late January after firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates hours after she refused to defend his controversial travel ban.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, doubts Rosenstein will have any trouble getting the simple majority vote he needs for confirmation. 

“Always in the past, the deputy attorney general has been someone who’s very active in Democratic or Republican politics, who doesn’t have what Rosenstein brings, which is a longer view and an independence, professionalism and an understanding of the department and how it’s operated,” he said.

“I think he’s a nice pick, especially with Sessions as a more political pick at the top. It’s a good balance.”

Democrats say Sessions’s recusal is not enough and are calling for him to resign following accusations that he lied under oath.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Sessions spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. That contradicts what Sessions told Franken during his confirmation hearing, when the Minnesota senator asked what he would do if he saw evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 presidential race.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions, a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at the time. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

The attorney general doubled-down on that answer Thursday, saying his reply to Franken’s question “was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.”

“I appreciate that some have taken the view that this was a false comment. That is not my intent. That is not correct,” he said. “I will write the Judiciary Committee soon, today or tomorrow, to explain this testimony for the record.”

In recusing himself from any investigations, Sessions said he is upholding a promise he made during his confirmation hearings. 

The FBI is reportedly investigating contact between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign, but no formal charges have been brought.

Any decisions about whether to bring charges will fall to Rosenstein once he’s confirmed.