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 BarrGOP rep predicts watchdog report on alleged FISA abuses will find 'problems' Barr defends Trump's use of executive authority, slams impeachment hearings GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse MORE, former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: Ukraine's not the only outrage To understand death behind bars, we need more information White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations 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 TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' 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 ConwayConway and Haley get into heated feud: 'You'll say anything to get the vice-presidential nomination' NBC signs Mueller 'pit bull' prosecutor Andrew Weissman as legal analyst George Conway and Trump Jr. trade personal insults during impeachment hearing 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 Comey3 reasons why impeachment fatigue has already set in Day 2 impeachment ratings drop by more than 1 million from first day Chris Wallace on Yovanovitch testimony: 'If you're not moved, you don't have a pulse' 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.