Attorneys: ‘By-the-book,’ ‘apolitical’ Rosenstein is ‘beyond qualified’ for deputy AG role

By Jessica Karmasek | Feb 2, 2017

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - If you ask those who have worked with Rod Rosenstein whether he would be a good fit for the No. 2 spot at the U.S. Department of Justice, you’ll get a resounding “yes.”

Doug Gansler, the former Maryland Attorney General and now a partner at Buckley Sandler LLP, told Legal Newsline that Rosenstein is “beyond qualified” for the job of deputy attorney general.

“He would fill that role incredibly well,” said Gansler, who has known Rosenstein for nearly 20 years. “He’s very, very qualified for it.”

According to reports, President Donald Trump plans to nominate Rosenstein, the longtime U.S. attorney in Maryland, for the job.

Currently, as a U.S. attorney, he oversees federal civil and criminal litigation and develops and implements federal law enforcement strategies in Maryland.

In all, Rosenstein, 52, has devoted 27 years to public service, 26 of which have been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department.

As of June, he became the longest-serving of the nation’s more than 90 current U.S. attorneys.

While he has never worked in the private sector, he also isn’t one to seek the political limelight, those who know him say.

“He doesn’t have an ounce of politician in him,” said Gansler, who was Montgomery County state’s attorney when Rosenstein became U.S. attorney.

“The minute a prosecutor gets political, that’s when he gets in trouble. And Rod recognizes that. He makes decisions for the right reasons and can articulate those reasons.”

Rosenstein has headed the office since 2005, when he took over for predecessor Thomas DiBiagio, who was fired by the Bush administration.

Former President Barack Obama passed on the opportunity to replace Rosenstein.

“He is totally by-the-book, totally apolitical,” Gansler said. “That’s how he has been able to survive, as a registered Republican, as the U.S. attorney in the most Democratic state in the country for the past eight years.”

That, and his by-the-book nature.

“He is prosecutor’s prosecutor -- he is a straight-shooter and a person of integrity who always seeks to do the right thing, the right way,” Jason Weinstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney and now a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, told Legal Newsline.

“He knows that the mission of DOJ is not to win cases, but to do justice.”

Weinstein worked directly for Rosenstein for four years, when he was the chief of Rosenstein’s Violent Crime Section. He worked with Rosenstein for another three years, as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division.

Weinstein described Rosenstein as an “outstanding manager.”

“He creates an environment where people can do their best work, he empowers them and he supports them,” he said.

While he has compiled an impressive record prosecuting gun crimes, street gangs, mortgage fraud and sexual predators, a majority of Rosenstein’s success has come in the form of political crimes and corruption.

One of Rosenstein’s most notable cases while serving as Maryland’s top prosecutor has been the indictment of Jack B. Johnson, the chief executive of Prince George’s County in Maryland from 2002 to 2010. In 2011, Johnson pleaded guilty to extortion and witness tampering charges.

From 1990 to 1993, Rosenstein prosecuted public corruption cases as a trial attorney with the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ’s Criminal Division, then led by Assistant Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III.

From 1995 through 1997, he worked for the independent counsel investigating Whitewater-related matters during the Clinton administration.

Before being sworn in as Maryland’s U.S. attorney, he served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Tax Division.

“The problem is -- well, it’s not really a problem -- Rod is and always has been extremely ethical, conscientious, smart and well-liked,” Gansler said. “The question is, how will that play in the current political environment in which we live?”

Gansler pointed to Trump’s firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates earlier this week. Yates, who served as deputy attorney general under Obama, refused to defend the President’s executive order restricting refugees and visa holders from entering the U.S.

“You want an attorney general to be an independent voice, to be above the law, and to call balls and strikes and not just carry out policy decisions,” Gansler said.

He said appointing such a person to the position of deputy attorney general -- the person who actually runs the office on a day-to-day basis -- is even more essential with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., most likely in the top role.

Sessions was approved as attorney general by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, and most likely will face a vote by the full, Republican-controlled Senate next week.

“Sessions is a politician, not a practicing lawyer, which makes the job of the DAG even more critical,” Gansler explained.

“So, with Trump as president and Sessions as attorney general, it’s going to make that job much more difficult to carry out. But if anyone can do it, it’s Rod Rosenstein.”

If nominated and confirmed as deputy attorney general, Rosenstein also would head up any investigation into Hillary Clinton. Sessions has said he would recuse himself from any probes of Clinton due to comments he made about her during the presidential campaign.

A graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Rosenstein later earned his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.

He also served as a law clerk to Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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