Maryland’s Own Rod Rosenstein Appoints Special Counsel, Draws Ire of President Trump

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Under pressure from Democratic lawmakers, former Maryland federal prosecutor Rod Rosenstein last night appointed a special attorney to probe Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Needless to say, his boss is not happy, which isn’t good if you’re Rod Rosenstein.

The evidence of the president’s dissatisfaction with Rosenstein’s power move is in the tweets:

The U.S. deputy attorney general doesn’t have a Twitter that he uses to make important public announcements. However, Rosenstein did issue an official order last night appointing former FBI chief Robert Mueller as the person who will supplant himself as head of the investigation.

“My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted,” he said in a statement. “I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”

This sensible conclusion didn’t come easily. Rosenstein, formerly the U.S. Attorney for Maryland and now second-in-command of Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, said only days ago that he didn’t see the need to take the investigation outside of the Trump administration, even though it involves allegations of the president colluding with Russia to influence the outcome of the election when he was campaigning.

The White House said it was surprised to hear of the deputy AG’s decision.

Rosenstein was hailed by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as a bipartisan, middle-of-the-road choice when Trump tapped him to be the deputy to far right-leaning Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February. However, he came under close public scrutiny this month when he penned a memo to his boss last Monday providing a rationale for Trump to fire now-former FBI Director James Comey.

In his letter to Sessions, Rosenstein criticized Comey for using a summer 2016 press conference, rather than dialoguing with DOJ officials privately, to can the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business. Comey’s chain of command-breaking actions were “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do,” and damaged the FBI’s credibility and reputation, Rosenstein wrote.

Trump at first said the letter was his basis for firing Comey, then backtracked and said he had planned to do it all along, anyway. Rosenstein proceeded with plans to lead the Trump-Russia investigation himself, which drew heavy criticism, including from Baltimore’s own top-ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

Yesterday, Rosenstein folded and appointed Mueller to run the investigation. Now, with an unhappy boss in the Oval Office and the public eye fixated on him, he’s set to testify before all 100 U.S. senators in a closed-door hearing today.

Before he got to D.C., Rosenstein was known around Maryland as the state’s top federal prosecutor in convicting gangs, cybercriminals and a host of other bad guys around the state for 11 years. (He was also an adjunct professor at both the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland schools of law.)

Things have really changed in the last three months. Today, he’ll be quite literally caught in the middle between Trump and his GOP defenders, and the rest of Washington wondering what Trump was up to with Russia last summer. That’s a heck of a lifestyle change in just a few short months.

This story has been corrected to reflect that former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s first name is not Michael.

Ethan McLeod
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