Wednesday 9 January 2019 2:28 pm

Rod Rosenstein, key figure in Trump probe, set to leave US justice department: reports

Follow Louis Ashworth
US deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, a key figure in the probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 US presidential election, is set to leave the Department of Justice in the coming weeks, according to multiple reports.

Rosenstein is likely to leave after the appointment of William Barr, President Donald Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions as the US attorney-general.

The Financial Times reported that Rosenstein wished to “ensure a smooth transition” at the department, citing a source close to the deputy attorney-general.

Rosenstein’s exit, first reported by ABC News, would mark the end to a controversial tenure, made notable by his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate whether Moscow influenced the presidential vote.

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That decision, which fell to Rosenstein after Sessions recused himself, drew the ire of Trump, who repeatedly criticised the deputy attorney-general, including sharing an image of him behind bars on Twitter. Trump fired Sessions in November following months of criticism from the president, appointing Matthew Whitaker as interim attorney-general.

Mueller’s probe has already had far-reaching effects, producing at least 100 criminal charges against 33 people and 3 organisations – including 13 Russian nationals, and several key figures close to Trump. In November, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, entered into a plea bargain with Mueller after lying about the Trump Organisation’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow.

Reports of Rosenstein quitting prompted fears and speculation online about the future of Mueller’s probe, of which the deputy attorney-general has been seen as a custodian, despite not not being in charge of it. However, reports suggest Rosenstein maintained oversight of Mueller’s efforts, while Whitaker – a critic of Mueller – has no taken any public steps to impede the special counsel.

CNN’s chief national security correspondent suggested Rosenstein’s willingness to exit might indicate that Mueller’s probe is nearing completion.

Reports in the New York Times and Washington Post suggested that Rosenstein is not being forced out, and said he had always seen the job as having a two-year tenure. Barr’s appointment requires confirmation by the Senate, so is not guaranteed.