Rosenstein leaves Justice after eventful tenure

Rosenstein leaves Justice after eventful tenure
© Greg Nash

During a farewell ceremony, Rosenstein repeatedly praised those serving in the law enforcement arm of the agency. And he cited the need to closely follow the rule of law, and not allow outside influences to impact their application of justice.

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“I leave here confident that justice is in good hands,” Rosenstein told the packed crowd of attendees in the Justice Department’s Great Hall. “It’s in your hands.”

The room was filled with notable names from the DOJ, including Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide MORE, former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal MORE and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Sessions, whose recusal from the Russia investigation led to Rosenstein having authority over the probe, praised his deputy's work, saying he handled a continuous “uproar” throughout the investigation.

“He stayed the course during some of the most difficult times during the history of the department,” said Sessions, who was fired by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE after the midterm elections.

Neither Mueller nor Trump attended the ceremony. Former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key character in the Mueller report who Democrats want to hear from, was on hand, as was White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayO'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Conway: Trump keeping 'many options on the table' on Iran retaliation, meeting with Iranian leaders MORE

Rosenstein was the target of attacks from a frustrated Trump over the Russia probe, and speculation was rampant that the law enforcement officer would be forced out. Those theories were fueled by media reports that Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire while meeting with Trump, and discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

Rosenstein repeatedly denied those reports, and was able to make his departure on his own terms.

Sessions called Rosenstein “one of the Department of Justice’s most important leaders in its history,” and also praised Barr for his handling of the Mueller report.

Barr has come under fierce criticism from Democrats over that issue, and on Wednesday was held in contempt of Congress by a House panel — something he joked about on Thursday.

“You like records,” Barr told Rosenstein, one arm around his deputy’s shoulders. “This must be a record of an attorney general being proposed for contempt within 100 days of taking office.”

Rosenstein did not mention Mueller during his remarks, although he did joke that his past assurances to his family that his administration role was “low-profile” did not stand.

Instead, he focused his attention on the importance of avoiding outside distractions and bias in carrying out law enforcement.

"Pursuing truth requires us to keep an open mind and avoid confirmation bias," Rosenstein said. "Truth may not match our preconceptions. Truth may not satisfy our hopes. But truth is essential to justice."

Rosenstein announced his departure in a letter to President Trump late last month. His exit had been in the works for some time, but Barr has said that he asked Rosenstein to stay on as the Mueller probe concluded.

The deputy attorney general is a position typically not known as a household name. But Rosenstein’s role in appointing Mueller and his memo backing the president’s firing of ex-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Aggrieved Trump rips Dems for 'sad' impeachment effort MORE thrust him into the national spotlight.

The farewell ceremony took place just hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his apparent replacement, Jeffrey Rosen. Rosen, a DOJ outsider who would join the agency from the Department of Transportation, is expected to be confirmed by the full Republican-controlled Senate in the coming days.

Democrats in Congress had previously been supportive of Rosenstein, a career official in DOJ who many lawmakers trusted to oversee the Mueller investigation.

But some Democrats have since soured on him, after he and Barr decided to not bring an obstruction of justice charge against Trump after reviewing the evidence of obstruction as laid out by Mueller.

More than 800 former federal prosecutors have signed a letter saying that Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice, were it not for DOJ guidance stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted.