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May 4, 2017

"Will Rod Rosenstein serve as a check on the attorney general, or will he tolerate his boss’s unabashed cheerleading for Trump?"

UntitledThe loaded question in the title of this post is the subheadline of this interesting new Slate piece by Leon Neyfakh with the main headline "The Man Who Could Stop Jeff Sessions." The piece is an extended profile of the fellow who was recently officially confirmed by the Senate to be the second-in-command at the US Justice Department. Here is part of the piece:

Rod Rosenstein — who joined the DOJ in 1990 as a trial attorney in the public-integrity section of the criminal division and most recently spent 12 years as the U.S. attorney for Maryland — is known in legal circles as a consummate professional who has never allowed politics to interfere with his decision-making.  The new deputy attorney general was, famously, the only U.S. attorney appointed by George W. Bush who was asked to stay on by Barack Obama — a merit badge that suggests he has been consistently even-handed in dealing with people from both sides of the aisle.  It’s a reputation that has attached itself to Rosenstein like a very flattering glue. Practically every profile of him includes words like apolitical, principled, and independent.  At his confirmation hearing in March, Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin called him, respectively, a “fair and focused administrator of justice” and a prosecutor who has conducted himself in “a totally nonpartisan, professional manner.”

In his new job overseeing the DOJ’s day-to-day operations, the 52-year-old Rosenstein is expected to bring a degree of normalcy and structure to an agency that, three months into Trump’s presidency, remains severely understaffed at its top levels. The extent to which he is allowed to assert his principles in running the department — and the extent to which he’s able to exert influence over the attorney general — will be a huge factor in determining what kinds of actions the DOJ takes under Trump and Sessions.

The differences between how Rosenstein and Sessions think about the Justice Department’s role in the federal government are manifest. Where the former seems to buy into an idealized vision of the agency as a nonpartisan instrument of pure law enforcement, Sessions has already demonstrated a gleeful willingness to align himself and his agency with the Trump administration....  Sessions is, of course, a key member of Trump’s cabinet. He was also an enthusiastic adviser to the Trump campaign back when he was a senator and was the first member of Congress to endorse him during the Republican primaries. On account of that history, and his well-established ideological kinship with Trump, Sessions’ continuing closeness to the president makes sense.  And yet there are good reasons to be concerned about a sitting attorney general who is unapologetically loyal to the president.

“There is an inherent tension in the role of attorney general,” said Michael Vatis, who served in the office of the deputy attorney general from 1994 to 1998. “Just like every other cabinet member, he is a political appointee who is supposed to be working the president’s agenda, but at the same time, it’s important for him to maintain a sense of independence from the White House, because inevitably, the Justice Department and the people who work under the AG are going to have to conduct investigations … that have some political element to them.” For those investigations to have credibility, Vatis continued, “you can’t have people in the country thinking … the investigation is not going to be conducted fairly, because the AG is just going to look out for the president’s political interests.”...

For many career lawyers at the DOJ, as well as alumni who have been watching the Trump administration’s manhandling of their beloved agency with increasing horror, Rosenstein’s hiring is a reason to feel cautiously optimistic about the agency’s future.  “He’s a career DOJ guy,” said one agency staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The career people and the long-termers view him as a known quantity.  If they don’t know him personally, they know people who do.  If I had to surmise what the rest of the department thinks, I would guess they’re thinking, ‘OK, this is someone we can work with.’ ”

How much power will Rosenstein have as deputy attorney general? Potentially a great deal. “Obviously the attorney general is the final decision-maker and the visionary for the department. He’s in charge. … But the DAG’s office is essentially the nucleus of the department.  It’s where major litigation is overseen, and it’s where policy initiatives are led,” said Mónica Ramírez Almadani, who served in the DAG's office during the Obama administration....

The fact that Rosenstein himself seems to take great pride in his professionalism and independence raises the question of how he will respond when his boss engages in the kind of actions the administration’s critics see as inappropriately political.  How far will he be willing to go, for instance, to defend the scores of police chiefs around the country who have argued that the immigration crackdown Sessions is demanding will impede their ability to effectively fight crime?  This is what current and former DOJ alumni are waiting to find out: Will Rosenstein serve as any kind of check on the new regime — someone who will tame Sessions’ most aggressive political instincts and push for greater distance between the DOJ and the White House — or will he fall in line and tolerate Sessions’ unabashed cheerleading for Trump?...

“I don’t know how much influence he’ll have on Sessions,” said Richard Jerome, who worked in the associate attorney general’s office from 1997 to 2001. “[Sessions is] a pretty strong personality, he’s certainly not new to Washington, and he has his own views. There’s not much that’s going to change his approach.”

One important factor to consider is that Sessions probably doesn’t believe that “politicization” of the DOJ is the unforgivable sin that many liberals make it out to be. Indeed, it’s fair to argue that the agency is by definition political and has always been in alignment with the administration it exists to serve.  Pretending otherwise, according to this line of thinking, is a form of naïveté: While most people agree that the DOJ should be “nonpartisan” in the sense that a Republican-led agency shouldn’t make it its mission to go after Democrats, the notion that someone like Sessions should try to suppress or hide his ideological priors is a nonstarter.  It’s not clear that it’s even possible for the Sessions DOJ to create distance between itself and the White House, considering that the ideas Sessions believes in most fervently — deporting illegal immigrants, reducing drug use through incarceration, and reducing federal scrutiny of local police departments — are the same ones Trump ran on as a candidate, and has embraced as president....

Still, the AG and the president can be on the same page ideologically without becoming so closely aligned that doing right by the administration becomes more important than doing what’s right.  This is the true meaning of “independence” — and in Rosenstein, Sessions has a deputy whose career has been defined by a belief in its importance. Let’s see if he continues to uphold that belief while working in Sessions’ shadow.

May 4, 2017 at 04:14 PM | Permalink

Comments

See the friendly looking lawyer, holding a puppy, in the picture above? It is 100% responsible for the explosion of murders in Baltimore. I see it as a mass murderer. Naturally, the pro-criminal crowds here and at Slate see it as a hero.

The FBI has documented the Ferguson Effect.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/may/4/fbi-report-officers-de-policing-anti-cop-hostility/

OK, the Baltimore police were subjected to a false witch hunt. They came to a consent decree, reviewed and endorsed, by an out of control, pro-criminal, federal judge. Departments across the nation got the message, were fully deterred. Now, murders are soaring in 20 major cities. Most of the excess victims are black males.

Thank the above mass murderer of black males. This feminist male running dog is far more effective than the KKK ever was. Its actions single handedly killed hundreds of black males, headed into the thousands. That rates it a major promotion in the Department. Good work, lawyer Rosenstein.

Posted by: David Behar | May 4, 2017 8:37:54 PM

I knew it. One guess where Rosenstein attended law school.

Posted by: David Behar | May 4, 2017 8:47:56 PM

This guy may be "apolitical" in the sense of the two-party system, but he is a government lawyer through and through and therefore likely shares the statist bent that Sessions has.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | May 5, 2017 12:55:33 AM

Wow--after Holder and Lynch, Slate is worried about Sessions? You kidding me?

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2017 9:34:26 AM

What is the story with the dog?

Anyway, Prof. Berman flagged the concern in the past about independence in the Cabinet here, something those consistently concerned about such things might find a problem now as well as in the past. OTOH, consistency is often not present here.

Posted by: Joe | May 5, 2017 11:35:15 AM

This appalling Harvard Law grad should not be promoted. He should be fired, prosecuted, and disbarred. It is 100% responsible for this horrible instance of prosecutorial misconduct. If it cannot be sued, then it should be targeted. Start with a boycott by all service and product providers.

http://www.npr.org/2017/05/05/527092499/federal-judge-dismisses-health-care-fraud-case-after-uncovering-prosecutor-misco

Posted by: David Behar | May 5, 2017 6:57:30 PM

Doing an image search, that appears to be a service dog, but not sure.

Posted by: Joe | May 6, 2017 1:21:55 PM

Joe. You are quite correct. The little bitch is wearing a service dog sweater. Rosenstein needs one, since he belongs to the most mentally crippled class of people in our nation. His mind was destroyed by the lawyer education.

In order to get into, and to succeed at Harvard Law School, this mental cripple had to memorize for 80 hours a week for years. He has no real human experience, and is unfit for human company.

I would like to start a service to provide lawyers with service weasels, to better guide them than a golden retriever puppy.

Posted by: David Behar | May 6, 2017 4:18:31 PM

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