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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this July 13, 2018 file photo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington. Rosenstein is expected to leave his position soon after William Barr is confirmed as attorney general. That’s according to a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them on the record and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the most visible Justice Department protector of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and a frequent target of President Donald Trump's wrath, is expected to leave his position soon after Trump's nominee for attorney general is confirmed.

The departure creates uncertainty about the oversight of Mueller's team as it enters what may be its final months of work. But the attorney general nominee, William Barr, moved quickly Wednesday to quell concerns that his arrival could endanger the probe, telling lawmakers during Capitol Hill visits ahead of his confirmation hearing that he has a high opinion of Mueller.

"He had absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do or how to do it," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will question Barr next Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, Barr could be in place at the Justice Department by February. Rosenstein is expected to leave his position soon after that, though he is not being forced out, said a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

The departure is not surprising given that Rosenstein has been deputy for almost two years. It is common for new attorneys general to have their own deputies and Barr has told people close to him that he wanted his own No. 2 as part of taking the attorney general job.

It was unclear who might replace Rosenstein, though Barr has some ideas for a selection, Graham said, without elaborating. The deputy position requires Senate confirmation. It was also not immediately clear whether Rosenstein's top deputy, Edward O'Callaghan, who has a prominent role overseeing Mueller's investigation, might remain in his role.

Rosenstein's departure is noteworthy given his appointment of Mueller and close supervision of his work. He's also endured a tenuous relationship with Trump, who has repeatedly decried Rosenstein's decision to appoint Mueller, and with congressional Republicans who accused him of withholding documents from them and not investigating aggressively enough what they contend was political bias within the FBI.

In September, Rosenstein went to the White House expecting to be fired after news reports that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking a constitutional amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office. He was ultimately allowed to stay on after private conversations with Trump and John Kelly, then chief of staff.

Trump also shared a photo on Twitter in November showing Rosenstein and others criticized by the president behind bars, calling for them to be tried for "treason."

Mueller is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein and his chief deputy have continued to maintain day-to-day oversight over the probe, a senior Justice Department official told reporters last month.

Barr would take over control of the investigation, assuming the same final say over major investigative steps that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has had since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted in November.

Democrats have been wary of Whitaker, who declined to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. The Democratic leader of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Gerrold Nadler, on Wednesday called for him to appear before the panel on Jan. 29.

The White House cast Rosenstein's departure as his choice. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein had always planned to stay two years and wants to help with the transition to a new attorney general. The person familiar with Rosenstein's plans said Rosenstein told Barr in a private conversation around the time Barr was selected that he expected to depart after Barr was confirmed.

"I don't think there's any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out," Sanders told Fox News.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election. The appointment followed the recusal of Sessions because of his work on the Trump campaign and Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

The transition to Barr, who served as attorney general in the 1990s, would come with critical steps in the Mueller investigation expected to unfold in the weeks and months ahead, when the special counsel's office is expected to report its findings to the Justice Department.

Barr has criticized the Mueller investigation, including an unsolicited memo he sent the Justice Department last year critiquing Mueller's investigation into whether the president had sought to obstruct justice by firing Comey.

Rosenstein in December said Mueller's investigation would be "handled appropriately" no matter who is overseeing it. He said Barr would be an "excellent attorney general when he is confirmed."

Graham suggested after his meeting with Barr that there were no reasons to worry that he'd undermine the investigation.

He noted that the two men worked together when Barr was attorney general between 1991 and 1993 and Mueller oversaw the department's criminal division. Graham said the two men were "best friends," that their wives attended Bible study together and that Mueller had attended the weddings of Barr's children.

Graham listed a number of questions that he had put to Barr: "I asked Mr. Barr directly, 'Do you think Mr. Mueller is on a witch hunt?' He said no. 'Do you think he would be fair to the president and the country as a whole?' He said yes. 'And do you see any reason for Mr. Mueller's investigation to be stopped?' He said no. 'Do you see any reason for a termination based on cause?' He said no. 'Are you committed to making sure Mr. Mueller can finish his job?' Yes."

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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Archived Comments

  • Shearload
    January 9, 2019 at 6:30 p.m.

    Seanjean, why do you think Manafort's lawyers didn't mention Hillary and the Steele memo in their court filing regarding the Trump campaign's coordination with Russian intelligence?

  • Knuckleball1
    January 9, 2019 at 6:53 p.m.

    Very Good and to the point Mr. Charles.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    January 9, 2019 at 7:03 p.m.

    sorry i misunderstood sherarlord i thought the news today was that MANAFORD was ACCUSED of providing polling information to the Russians. i did not see an indictment or report from Mr Mueller regarding donald Trump and collusion with the Russian government. if you know where i can find that please let me know. if not as it STILL stands. Mueller is still snipe hunting after two years.

  • Skeptic1
    January 9, 2019 at 7:14 p.m.

    mrcharles..what is really sad is that you think your inane BS matters. You are an extreme loony minority in a very red and conservative state. Slither away and take Rbear out of his mommy's basement and put him some long pants while you're at it.

  • SeanJohn
    January 9, 2019 at 7:29 p.m.

    SHEARLOAD, because nobody wants to end up in a body bag? Seriously, what exactly is the difference? I’m sure there is one or two words with some legal meaning that defines the difference, I’m just curious what it is?

  • Packman
    January 9, 2019 at 7:51 p.m.

    And the swamp creatures continue vacate the swamp. Nice. Very nice.
    Hey shearload - That’s a lie and you know. You really don’t mind looking foolish, do you.
    Hey seanjohn - That’s a very good question.

  • NoUserName
    January 9, 2019 at 8:13 p.m.

    Pack - "And the swamp creatures continue vacate the swamp."
    Who appointed the swamp creature?

  • SeanJohn
    January 9, 2019 at 8:19 p.m.

    Pack, I’m even more confused. I researched some stuff online that makes it sound as if Clinton is guilty of collusion since her campaign did hire Steele and Steele used Russian sources for his Trump dossier. But, the reason Clinton isn’t guilty is because she herself was never involved in Steele’s investigation and she herself wasn’t directing Russians to speak to Steele. So, I guess that means Mueller has to prove that Trump himself conspired directly with Russians. Anything that his campaign staff did directly with Russians doesn’t make Trump himself guilty of collusion. That’s if I understand correctly.

  • PopMom
    January 9, 2019 at 8:49 p.m.


    The British guy was paid for his work so he did not make a campaign contribution. It is perfectly acceptable for a campaign to hire people to do opposition research and they can be foreigners. What is illegal is for a foreign entity to make a campaign contribution to a U.S. federal election. The Russians spent millions on campaign ads on social media, on trolls to be a presence on social media, and even on some participants for campaign activities and events. There also were attempts to hack into some voting systems, but it has not been proven that those were successful. Do not forget that the Russians broke into the DNC computer system and gave the dirt to Wikileaks--another very illegal campaign contribution and an illegal act itself. Manafort was Trump's campaign manager. He can claim that he acted alone and kept Trump in the dark, but there may be evidence to suggest or prove otherwise. Do not forget that Trump Jr. was at the tower meeting and Michael Cohen was involved as well. How likely is it that his attorney, his campaign manager and his kid all conspired with the Russians without him knowing. If your only news source is the ADG or Fox, you may be clueless about some of the proceedings going on, but Chief Justice Roberts has seen some of the evidence in one case and there is at least one grand jury looking into a Russian company's participation in the campaign and many defendants being represented on a variety of charges. Much of this is under seal, but as the various parties seek legal representation and file pleadings, bits of information are coming out. There is speculation that Rosenstein is moving on because Mueller has what he needs to wrap this up soon or the current dirt is so bad that no Republican is going to try to stop the investigation. There also is evidence of Manafort meetings to let Russia off on sanctions for the invasion and interference in Ukraine. It is possible that the cozy relationship with Putin extended to Syria, which is why Mattis had to resign. There is a circumstantial case that Trump is guilty of the worst kind of treason with respect to making deals with the dictator Putin. This is so much worse than anything Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon ever did. This may be the worst crime ever committed by a US president.

  • Waitjustaminute
    January 9, 2019 at 10:01 p.m.

    Popmom, and what is this terrible crime you are talking about? What has Donald Trump done for Russia, exactly?
    And keep in mind, "collusion" is not a crime.