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Rosenstein defends AG nominee Barr, says Mueller probe will be ‘handled appropriately’

Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinHouse Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Media leaders to meet with Garland to discuss leak investigations MORE said Thursday that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s investigation will be “handled appropriately” no matter who is overseeing it.

Responding to questions at the Justice Department, Rosenstein dismissed concerns raised over the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general and President TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC MORE’s nomination of William Barr to serve atop the Justice Department. Both have been publicly critical of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

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“We’ve continued to manage the investigation as we have in the past,” Rosenstein said. “It’s going to be handled appropriately by the Department of Justice."

Rosenstein was specifically asked to respond to a new Wall Street Journal report that Barr, who served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, sent a memo to the Justice Department earlier this year criticizing the Mueller investigation as based on a “fatally misconceived” theory.

Rosenstein, appearing to confirm the existence of the unsolicited June 8 memo, vociferously defended Barr and his record and said he would be “an excellent attorney general when he is confirmed next year.” 

“Lots of people offer opinions to the Department of Justice, but they don’t influence our decisionmaking,” Rosenstein said, adding that he never shared nonpublic information about the investigation with Barr. 

Barr has been scrutinized for critical statements he has made about the Mueller investigation since Trump nominated him Dec. 7.

Barr is expected to face a difficult confirmation battle in the Senate when Congress returns next year. Meanwhile, Whitaker, who replaced Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos Garland strikes down Trump-era asylum decisions MORE when he abruptly resigned in November at Trump’s request, will continue to serve as attorney general in an acting capacity.

Whitaker has been subject to scrutiny of his own for op-eds he has written in which he criticized Mueller’s investigation, including one that suggested the probe was in danger of crossing a red line.

Rosenstein has been overseeing the Mueller investigation as a result of Sessions’s recusal, and some have argued that Whitaker should also be forced to recuse himself as a result of his previous opinions on the investigation. However, reports emerged early Thursday that Whitaker had been cleared by ethics officials to oversee the probe.

Rosenstein indicated Thursday that the Justice Department would have a forthcoming announcement about oversight of the investigation.