- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been at the center of multiple recent reports that say he will soon be fired or resign.
- The Justice Department’s rules of succession dictate that the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, is next in line to take over for Rosenstein.
- Francisco’s views seem to mirror some of President Donald Trump’s – a 2016 op-ed article rebuked the FBI, and a case he was involved in earlier this year included a defence of executive authority.
Speculation swirled Monday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would soon be fired or resign.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that Rosenstein had discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office and wearing a wire to record their conversations. Rosenstein has disputed the report.
News organisations reported differing accounts Monday morning, including that Rosenstein resigned, that he was fired, and that he was leaving the administration.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein instead spent part of the day in scheduled meetings, including “extended” conversation with Trump about recent news stories.
The White House also confirmed the two would meet on Thursday when Trump returns to Washington from United Nations General Assembly.
The Times report is said to have pushed Trump to weigh firing Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election. Four Americans once affiliated with Trump’s campaign or administration have been charged as a result of the inquiry.
Justice Department rules dictate that the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, would assume Rosenstein’s post. Francisco’s track record and views more closely align with ideas and grievances expressed by Trump.
Francisco, a White House counsel under President George W. Bush, was a DOJ lawyer until 2005, when he joined the law firm Jones Day. There he worked with several future Trump appointees, including the White House counsel Don McGahn, as well as took stances against various prosecutions of public officials.
Trump announced on Twitter last month that McGahn would leave the administration this fall, following a bombshell Times article that said McGahn had given over 30 hours of testimony in Mueller’s investigation.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017. Since the beginning of the investigation, Trump has decried it as a “witch hunt.”
In a 2016 op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, Francisco took aim at James Comey, then the FBI director, accusing Comey of acting in political interests by watering down an investigation into Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
In a case earlier this year involving the Securities and Exchange Commission, Francisco sought to assert Trump’s constitutional ability to hire and fire almost all federal authorities.
“The Constitution gives the president what the framers saw as the traditional means of ensuring accountability: the power to oversee executive officers through removal,” Francisco wrote, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The president is accordingly authorised under our constitutional system to remove all principal officers, as well as all ‘inferior officers’ he has appointed.”
It has been widely debated whether Trump has the authority to fire Mueller, whose investigation would be overseen by Francisco should he assume Rosenstein’s post.
Democrats have reportedly developed a plan to insulate the Russia investigation from any personnel changes, zeroing in on concerns about obstruction of justice and a desire to protect the integrity of the inquiry.
During Francisco’s confirmation hearings last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, mentioned his expressed support for Trump’s travel ban and urged him in a letter to “publicly commit to refuse any order or request – whether express or implied – to interfere in the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
After two decades in the top legal circles in Washington, Francisco is an established presence who lawmakers have recognised could be elevated at any time because of Trump’s unpredictable behaviour.
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, told Business Insider last month that he thought Francisco made for an ideal candidate to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I think the solicitor general has done a pretty extraordinary job and is someone who will clearly be in the mix,” Bannon said. “But that’s for the president to decide.”
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