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Rod Rosenstein’s replacement just got one step closer to getting confirmed

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved his nomination.

Jeffrey Rosen, the nominee for deputy attorney general, testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Building on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
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.

Effective this Saturday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is stepping down from his role in the Justice Department after a tempestuous tenure overseeing the Mueller report. On Thursday, Jeffrey Rosen, the new nominee for the position, got one step closer to taking his place.

Rosen this week was approved along party lines for the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department by the Senate Judiciary Committee. His nomination heads to the Senate floor, where it’s expected to get a vote in the coming weeks amid fallout from the release of the Mueller report.

If confirmed, Rosen, who’s served as deputy secretary at the Transportation Department since May 2017, would be working directly under Attorney General William Barr, someone he worked alongside previously at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Barr 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.

As deputy attorney general, Rosenstein played a central role in overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and it’s likely that Rosen will be involved in follow-up on the inquiry. Given his extensive experience in both the private and public sectors, not to mention the fact that he’s already been approved by the Senate for a different position, Rosen is seemingly on track for a smooth confirmation.

As former Justice Department career attorney Julie Rodin Zebrak writes for Politico, however, Rosen’s lack of prosecutorial experience and familiarity with the agency itself, could hurt his ability to handle this wide-ranging job effectively.

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. Rosen also noted that he wouldn’t be the first to be considered for this role who didn’t have the requisite DOJ expertise.

As the Senate weighs Rosen’s confirmation, the agency is continuing to grapple with the follow-up to the Mueller probe, which Rosenstein oversaw in the wake of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation. Barr has thus far been fielding much of the congressional pressure about releasing the unredacted report and providing testimony on it, though Rosen would likely have to address some of these issues as well if he became the agency’s second-in-command.

Notably, Republicans have called on Barr to conduct further investigation into how the counterintelligence probe against the Trump campaign began and whether there was bias in the way the FBI conducted its review of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Democrats, meanwhile, are continuing to press for Mueller’s testimony.

Rosen would be joining the agency at a time of immense scrutiny related to the Mueller investigation, blowback to Trump’s immigration policies, and looming questions about antitrust enforcement. Senators will have to decide if they think he’s up for it.

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