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Rod Rosenstein’s replacement has officially been confirmed by the Senate

He’ll serve as William Barr’s second-in-command at DOJ.

Jeffrey Rosen testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Building on April 10, 2019.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Jeffrey Rosen, an attorney who’s never served at the Department of Justice or as a prosecutor, just became Attorney General William Barr’s second-in-command.

Rosen was most recently deputy secretary at the Transportation Department, and while he’s not the first to take on this role with little DOJ background, he was widely panned by Democrats for his inexperience at the agency. Given solid backing from Republicans, however, he was confirmed by the Senate 52-45 in a vote on Thursday.

Rosen joins the DOJ as deputy attorney general at a time of immense change. Rod Rosenstein vacated the role in early May, and special counsel Robert Mueller is set to leave the agency shortly as well, now that his probe into Russian election interference is complete.

Mueller’s review may be over, but the fallout from it is just beginning — and that will likely be a key issue Rosen will have to deal with in this role, which also includes overseeing the day-to-day operations of “107,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $28 billion,” according to a Politico report by former DOJ career attorney Julie Rodin Zebrak.

Already, Democrats have pushed for an unredacted version of the report and testimony from Mueller himself, while Republicans are urging the DOJ to conduct other reviews about bias against the Trump campaign. Rosen’s predecessor, Rosenstein, was ultimately pivotal to ensuring that the Mueller investigation was able to continue.

Rosen will report directly to Barr, someone he worked alongside previously at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Barr previously offered a hearty endorsement of Rosen’s nomination, praising his “more than 35 years’ experience litigating complex matters in state and federal courts across the country” earlier this year.

Who is Jeffrey Rosen?

Rosen has split his more than three-decade career between jobs in the government and stints at Kirkland & Ellis. According to his biography on the Transportation Department website, Rosen served as general counsel for the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Transportation Department between 2003 and 2009, under President George W. Bush. He had also worked at Kirkland & Ellis for almost three decades, including for clients like General Motors and Hyundai.

Rosen was confirmed for the deputy transportation secretary position 56-42 in May 2017, with predominantly Republican support.

According to Politico, Democrats’ primary concerns about his appointment to that role centered on Rosen’s approach to environmental policy. And some of these certainly proved warranted: While at the Transportation Department, Rosen has undone prior regulations established during President Barack Obama’s administration and helped roll back rules on fuel efficiency.

Rosen, during his April confirmation hearing, was also pressed on how he would handle the job at the Justice Department, including questions about his stance on releasing the full Mueller report. Rosen wouldn’t commit to sharing the entire report, though he did say he would support federal investigations that may be generated from it to continue. “If I’m confirmed, I would expect in all criminal investigations and prosecutorial matters that they proceed on the facts and the law,” he said.

Additionally, Rosen emphasized that he’d push back on potential political pressure from the White House around Justice Department activities, when needed. “If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody, then I will say no,” he noted.

The deputy attorney general is responsible for the day-to-day functions of the agency

The deputy attorney general’s job, which has historically been a relatively low-profile one, also includes an expansive set of responsibilities, Rodin Zebrak writes. And because Rosen hasn’t worked at the Justice Department before, a lot of these could prove entirely new to him:

The deputy attorney general oversees day-to-day operations and policies of the entire DOJ, a sprawling institution of more than 107,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $28 billion. The department includes the litigating divisions such as the Civil Rights Division, Criminal Division, Antitrust Division, National Security Division, Civil Division, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Division. The deputy supervises all 93 United States attorneys and their work around the country, as well as immigration judges. DOJ also includes the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, United States Marshals Service and Bureau of Prisons. For someone completely new to DOJ, managing all that will require a steep learning curve.

Rosen was confronted with this question at his confirmation hearing, during which he emphasized his experience overseeing more than 55,000 employees at DOT and his lengthy legal career.

He’ll be joining the agency at a time of major scrutiny related to the Mueller investigation, blowback to Trump’s immigration policies, and looming questions about antitrust enforcement. Now that he’s been confirmed, he’ll have the opportunity to prove that he can handle it.