Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s longtime Senate colleagues dealt him a bad hand when he advanced through the confirmation process. Absurdist interpretations of passing meetings with Russian diplomats somehow morphed into a recusal-triggering exit from supervision of the Justice Department’s most sensitive case and its most critical internal investigation. After the midterm elections, President Trump is expected to accept Sessions’s resignation. To whom should the president turn as a new attorney general?
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is very able, experienced and admired, but he is not the best choice. Supposed to have been the “inside guy” who made the paper flow and the department work efficiently, Rosenstein has suddenly found himself saddled not just with a special-counsel investigation that needed protection from outside pressure but also with a crisis at the FBI that is of great consequence though it involves very few of the bureau’s professionals, past and current.
The Russia investigation and the parallel investigation into the bureau’s conduct during the 2016 election would have taxed the most able of veteran “wise man” lawyers like former White House counsel Fred Fielding or the late Judge Abner Mikva. Rosenstein is a prosecutor thrust into politics. And while he may yet win back the confidence of Congress, he does not currently have it.