Did yesterday’s leak about Rod Rosenstein prompt a change of strategy for William Barr? Until today, Barr had begged off meeting with Senate Democrats because of the shutdown at the Department of Justice. However, the apparent plans of the deputy attorney general to depart at the end of the probe might have shifted the ground on Barr’s confirmation — especially since it appears Rosenstein won’t stick around for the report:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing the special counsel investigation, plans to step down after Robert Mueller finishes his work, according to administration officials familiar with his thinking.
A source close to Rosenstein said he intends to stay on until Mueller’s investigative and prosecutorial work is done. The source said that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March. Several legal sources have said they expect the Mueller team to conclude its work by mid-to-late February, although they said that timeline could change based on unforeseen investigative developments.
The source said once Mueller’s work is done, the special counsel’s report to the Justice Department would follow a few weeks later, and Rosenstein would likely be gone by then.
Aaaaaand that’s a problem, at least for senators who keep insisting that special legislation is needed to protect Mueller. They remain convinced that Trump still seeks ways to fire Mueller, even though he’s pretty clearly reaching the end of his probe and firing him won’t keep him from talking about it later. It’s compounded by the appointment and all-but-certain confirmation of Barr back to the office he held a generation earlier, which will put him in position to handle Mueller’s report whether Rosenstein remains in his current position or not. Without Rosenstein, though, there’s one less check on Barr as to whether he will make the entire report available to Congress.
NBC does note that Rosenstein isn’t getting forced out, though:
Rosenstein had long intended to serve about two years as the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, the administration officials say. They add that this is his own plan and that he is not being forced out by the White House. That’s despite the fact that he’s been a frequent target of criticism from President Donald Trump on Twitter.
True, but Trump does that with a lot of people, and he saved most of his venom for Jeff Sessions. Trump has been pretty quiet about Rosenstein for the last few weeks, either because of the border-wall distraction or because he knew Rosenstein was on his way out. But that’s enough for the upper chamber to worry even more about Barr’s confirmation. That’s probably why top Republican senators are now hailing Barr’s respect for Robert Mueller and promising that his appointment won’t impact the investigation at all:
Top Senate Republicans emerged Wednesday from meetings with attorney general nominee William P. Barr insisting that if confirmed, he would not hinder Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, despite previous statements blasting the probe for looking into whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
“Based on what I heard, he has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job, will do a professional job and be fair to the president and the country as a whole,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, adding that Barr sees “no reason for Mr. Mueller to stop doing his job and is committed to allowing Mr. Mueller to finish.” …
“William P. Barr is what I would call a judicial law-and-order attorney general. He’s not a politician,” Cornyn told reporters. “He respects [Mueller], and I think he’s on record saying he thinks he should be allowed to complete his work. To me, that’s the long and short of it.”
Also as suddenly, Barr’s now available for meetings with Senate Democrats despite the shutdown. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) got the honor of the first visit:
Thanks everyone. My meeting is now set for this afternoon with AG nominee Barr. Coffee will be hot. ☕️ https://t.co/jUn2AONuQg
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 10, 2019
Barr now says he’ll begin meeting with the rest starting tomorrow. It certainly sounds as though Republicans want Barr to launch a charm offensive now, rather than stonewall members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s tough to see anything else that’s changed except Rosenstein’s career status — and new expressions of respect for Mueller.