Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned today. It has been clear for some time that Rosenstein would depart. However, he waited, reportedly at the urging of Attorney General Barr, for the Mueller report to be filed and summarized before resigning.
Rosenstein is a respected figure, but I think he made a major mistake when he appointed a special counsel for the Russia investigation. The investigation should have been handled by Department of Justice personnel. By instead bringing in a special counsel, Rosenstein caused a significant amount of needless disruption and other harm to the Trump presidency.
No extraordinary circumstances justified using a special counsel. As even James Comey admitted privately, at the time Mueller entered the scene there was no sound basis for believing that Trump colluded with the Russians (and Mueller, after all his digging, found none). Nor did the firing of Comey justify Rosenstein’s decision to bring in Mueller. Rosenstein himself recommended that Comey be fired. And the firing did not derail the investigation into Russia and the 2016 election.
There are also substantial arguments that Rosenstein should have recused himself from the investigation. I won’t rehearse them here.
I will say that Rosenstein did the nation a service by delaying his departure until after the Mueller report was filed and Attorney General Barr had summarized it. Rosenstein ended up agreeing with Barr that Mueller’s findings of fact do not make out a case of obstruction of justice.
Since Rosenstein was on his way out, and gains no personal advantage from agreeing with Barr, his concurrence will, for some, add weight to Barr’s conclusion. Indeed, having determined that a special counsel was needed, and having selected Mueller for the job, it seems obvious that if Barr were twisting the Mueller report or drawing incorrect conclusions from it, Rosenstein wouldn’t cover for him by standing behind the Attorney General.
But Rosenstein is standing behind him. He told the Wall Street Journal:
[Barr] is being as forthcoming as he can, and so this notion that he’s trying to mislead people, I think is just completely bizarre.
Maybe not completely bizarre, but completely political.