Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday submitted his resignation letter to President Donald Trump, the Justice Department confirmed to INSIDER.
Rosenstein is set to leave the department on May 11.
“I am grateful to you for the opportunity to serve; for the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations; and for the goals you set in your inaugural address: patriotism, unity, safety, education and prosperity,” Rosenstein said in a letter to the president.
Rosenstein said that the Justice Department has made “rapid progress” in achieving the Trump administration’s “law enforcement priorities.”
“I commend our 115,000 employees for their accomplishments and their devotion to duty … We keep the faith, we follow the rules, and we always put America first,” he added.
Rosenstein reportedly signaled he would resign once the special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report on Russian election interference, and appears to be following through on that pledge.
After former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the department’s investigation into Russian election interference, Rosenstein took over the oversight of the investigation and ultimately tapped Mueller to lead the probe.
“Our nation is safer, our elections are more secure, and our citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence efforts and schemes to commit fraud, steal intellectual property, and launch cyberattacks,” Rosenstein wrote in his resignation letter, though he did not explicitly reference Mueller, the investigation, or report.
Trump repeatedly decried the Mueller probe as a politically motivated “witch hunt,” and throughout the investigation there were reports the president was considering firing Rosenstein.
In a statement provided to INSIDER, Attorney General William Barr said Rosenstein would be missed and described him as an “invaluable partner.”
“Rod Rosenstein has served the Department of Justice with dedication and distinction for nearly thirty years as a prosecutor, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, US. Attorney, and as Deputy Attorney General. His devotion to the Department and its professionals is unparalleled,” Barr said. “Over the course of his distinguished government career, he has navigated many challenging situations with strength, grace, and good humor.”
Barr added: “Rod has been an invaluable partner to me during my return to the Department, and I have relied heavily on his leadership and judgment over the past several months. I have appreciated the opportunity to work closely with him, and I wish him well in his future endeavors. The Department and I will miss him.”
Rosenstein drew heat from both sides of the aisle
Rosenstein was a controversial figure throughout much of his tenure as deputy attorney general.
As Mueller’s investigation expanded and began encircling the White House, the knives were out for Rosenstein in the White House and among congressional Republicans who were loyal to the president as well as from those in conservative media.
The president and his allies often accused Rosenstein of failing to constrain Mueller and allowing the special counsel to go on a politically motivated fishing expedition against Trump. Those accusations grew particularly intense after Rosenstein greenlit an FBI raid on the properties of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime former lawyer, in April 2018.
Rosenstein also drew criticism from Justice Department veterans and legal scholars, many of whom said he may not have been fit to oversee Mueller given his role as a critical witness in one of the key threads of the Russia investigation: whether Trump sought to obstruct justice by firing FBI director James Comey in May 2017, shortly before Mueller’s appointment.
In a letter Trump sent to Comey notifying him of his termination, the president said his decision was based primarily on Rosenstein’s recommendation, as well as input from Sessions.
Though the White House initially said Comey had been terminated entirely based on Rosenstein’s and Sessions’ recommendations, Trump later admitted on national television that he had fired Comey because of “this Russia thing” and that he would have ousted the FBI director whether or not it had been recommended to him by senior Justice Department officials.
Still, Rosenstein’s involvement in the justification for Comey’s firing raised questions about whether he had conflicts of interest while overseeing Mueller.
Those questions resurfaced when Barr received Mueller’s final report and, within 48 hours, announced that he had consulted with Rosenstein and determined Trump did not obstruct justice.
Mueller’s team said in their report that they declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on the question of obstruction because they were constrained by current DOJ policy that states a sitting president cannot be indicted.
But prosecutors laid out an extensive roadmap of all the evidence they had collected in the investigation, which included 11 possible instances of obstruction of justice by the president.
“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” prosecutors wrote. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”