Rod Rosenstein was on the chopping block before — and survived

Posted at 10:21 AM, Sep 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-25 12:21:06-04

Monday’s drama at the White House has official Washington buzzing about whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will keep his job.

But this isn’t the first time we’ve been here.

The week of April 9, the Rosenstein watch was on as well.

The FBI had raided the home, hotel room and office of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. Trump sent a half dozen tweets attacking the Russia investigation.

“Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!” Trump tweeted.

Several prominent politicians — especially Democrats — warned Trump not to fire Rosenstein.

Rosenstein survived with aplomb. Since then, he’s backed special counsel Robert Mueller for referring out criminal cases to other parts of the Justice Department and announced the indictment of 12 Russian military officers who allegedly hacked the Democrats in 2016.

Since that week five months ago, support for Rosenstein among the legal community, both inside the Justice Department and among private lawyers, has solidified.

“On one hand, no one would be shocked because of the build up to this, but at the same time it would send shock waves throughout the legal community. It would be a very unusual thing for the deputy attorney general to be fired or resign under pressure,” Greg Brower, the former US Attorney for Nevada under President George W. Bush who also worked as the FBI’s liaison to Congress, said.

The President firing Rosenstein would likely be viewed by Justice Department lawyers as an attack on their agency, he said. They’d likely feel the same if his successor was too cozy with the White House, he added.

Generally, it’s important for the Justice Department to appear unaffected by political winds, since prosecutors every day must earn the trust of federal judges and even jurors.

“If you were to ask white collar lawyers who grew up with a Justice Department background and they know Rod, they know Rod is a law-and-order person,” former DC-based federal prosecutor Bill Cowden, who is now a defense attorney, said Monday. “The bar likes him.”

The goodwill extends to Congress.

“I like Rosenstein, personally. I think if he did something like that, it would cause a furor that I don’t think we need right now,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN Monday in response to a question about whether Trump should fire Rosenstein. “Everything is a constitutional crisis around here lately.”

Even back in April, it was evident prominent people in the legal community supported Rosenstein. Amid the April furor — and potentially at its height — on that afternoon of Friday the 13th — Rosenstein and his boss Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended a ceremony for a new judge at the federal courthouse in DC. The ceremony, for Trump appointee Judge Trevor McFadden, drew hundreds of prominent Washington lawyers, administration officials and all judges in the US District Court in DC.

Rosenstein came into the courthouse saying nothing. Sessions entered the federal building separately with his own entourage, ignoring questions about departmental leadership.

Sessions then spoke at the ceremony, thanking judges for having him and “our good Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein” in the audience.

After the ceremony, Sessions left quickly. But Rosenstein hung behind, mingling at a reception afterwards as one of the most popular people in the room. He chatted with White House counsel Don McGahn and with Judge Merrick Garland.

He worked the room wearing an American flag pin and a smile and carrying a glass of wine.

Some lawyers there and others related to the judiciary took photos with him.

He kept his job through the weekend — and five months and counting.