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Another One Bites The Dust

Rod Rosenstein joins other former Administration officials who have resisted Trump's wishes

It’s another one of those resignations that you knew was coming sooner or later. The only question was when which turned out to be yesterday. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man responsible for appointing Robert Mueller to investigate the Russia scandal, officially submitted his resignation. Rosenstein’s last day on the job will be May 11.

Rosenstein appointed the special counsel to investigate both the Russian attacks on the 2016 election and “other matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” after President Trump linked the firing of FBI Director James Comey to “this Russia thing.” Rosenstein himself had been placed in charge of the investigation after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation because he had been part of the 2016 Trump campaign. Both Sessions and Rosenstein faced repeated and blistering attacks from President Trump for their roles in the Mueller investigation.

Sessions withstood almost two years of Trump’s criticism and insults before resigning immediately after the 2018 midterm elections. Rosenstein lasted long enough to see the Mueller investigation through to its conclusion and the release of Mueller’s redacted report to the public.

In his resignation letter, Rosenstein said that the Justice Department had “made rapid progress in achieving the Administration’s law enforcement priorities – reducing violent crime, curtailing opioid abuse, protecting consumers, improving immigration enforcement, and building confidence in the police – while preserving national security and strengthening federal efforts in other areas.” He added, “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 cyber attacks.”

Rosenstein failed to cite a specific reason for his resignation but noted that “the median tenure of a Deputy Attorney General is 16 months, and few serve longer than two years.”

“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,” Rosenstein told the president, “Patriotism, unity, safety, education, and prosperity, because ‘a nation exists to serve its citizens.’”

Nevertheless, the last three paragraphs of the letter seem to be a pointed rebuke to Donald Trump. “Political considerations may influence policy choices, but neutral principles must drive decisions about individual cases,” Rosenstein wrote. He then quotes three different past attorneys general to underscore his point that enforcement of the law must be impartial and objective.

“We enforce the law without fear or favor because credible evidence is not partisan, and truth is not determined by opinion polls,” Rosenstein said. “We ignore fleeting distractions and focus our attention on the things that matter because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle.”

Given the high value that Donald Trump places on personal loyalty, there was little doubt that Rosenstein’s tenure at the Department of Justice would not last for Trump’s full term. In November 2018, the president tweeted an image that showed Rosenstein, Mueller, Comey and several Obama officials behind bars. It’s safe to say that Rosenstein had lost the support of the president years ago and was serving on borrowed time, owing his job to the fact that it was politically inconvenient for Trump to fire him.

In his departure, Rosenstein joins an impressive list of former officials who have tried to rein in Trump’s worst instincts and protect the president from himself, often by disobeying his orders. Among the high-profile departures since last year’s elections were Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and, of course, Jeff Sessions. White House Don McGahn, who the Mueller report credited with refusing to follow Trump’s instructions to compromise the investigation and fire the special counsel, left the administration just before the elections last October.

As I predicted last December when the departures of Kelly and Mattis were announced, the absence of advisors who were able to restrain Mr. Trump has led to a more erratic and extreme presidency. Since then we have seen the government shutdown, a contrived national emergency to bypass Congress, the attempted coverup of Mueller’s findings about Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, and further consolidation of executive power through the dismissal of subordinates who resist unwise and illegal orders.

By all indications, Rod Rosenstein is an honorable man who served the country well during his tenure as Deputy Attorney General. His successor must be prepared to not only defend the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic but to protect the country and the president from the chief executive’s own bad ideas. This job description is patently unfair but that is the world in which we now live.

[Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect than Don McGahn is no longer White House counsel.]

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