WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, wrapped up his high-profile tenure at the U.S. Justice Department as his likely replacement moved closer to confirmation in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.
In an emotional farewell ceremony, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein defended the Justice Department’s mission at a time when its employees face increasing criticism President Donald Trump, as well as from Democrats and Republicans.
“If kindness and humility are in short supply outside the halls of justice, that’s all the more reason to set a good example,” Rosenstein said at a ceremony that included tributes from Attorney General William Barr and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Rosenstein spoke shortly after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved Jeffrey Rosen, the No. 2 official at the Department of Transportation, to replace Rosenstein as Barr’s deputy. That clears the way for a final confirmation vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Unlike Rosenstein, who spent nearly 30 years at the Justice Department, Rosen has never worked as a prosecutor.
Democrats said his lack of experience should be disqualifying.
“We can’t and shouldn’t afford to have somebody who is learning on the job,” said the committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.
Rosenstein became one of the department’s most high-profile deputies in history after he appointed Mueller in May 2017 to probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller completed his investigation in March, issuing a report that did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russian government officials.
Mueller’s report did not determine whether Trump obstructed justice, but also did not exonerate him. It documented multiple episodes painting Trump’s behaviour in an unflattering light.
Rosenstein and Attorney General William Barr later concluded there was not enough evidence presented to prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice.
Rosenstein oversaw the investigation after Sessions, then serving as attorney general, recused himself because he had spoken with Russian officials while serving as a top adviser on Trump’s campaign.
Along the way, Rosenstein faced intense criticism from Trump, who repeatedly blasted the probe as a politically motivated “witch hunt,” as well as Democrats who have questioned the decision not to charge Trump with obstruction. Republicans, meanwhile, have questioned whether the FBI overstepped its boundaries by monitoring campaign officials it suspected of being Russian agents.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot