Rod Rosenstein's right-hand man is stepping down from the Justice Department

  • Scott Schools, the Department of Justice’s top career attorney and an influential adviser to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is stepping down this week.
  • One DOJ veteran said Schools likely had “considerable influence” over critical decisions Rosenstein made, like appointing the special counsel Robert Mueller, weighing whether or not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and green lighting an FBI raid on the properties of Michael Cohen.
  • Schools is one of the few top DOJ officials who is regularly briefed on the Russia investigation.
  • Bradley Weinsheimer, a 27-year veteran of the DOJ, will temporarily replace Schools.

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Scott Schools, the Department of Justice’s senior-most career attorney and a top aide to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will step down to take a job in the private sector, the department announced this week.

As associate deputy attorney general, Schools is Rosenstein’s main adviser. Before Rosenstein, Schools was an aide to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

Schools is also one of the few top DOJ officials who is regularly briefed on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Schools’ departure comes after Rachel Brand, formerly the third-in-command at the department, stepped down earlier this year. It also comes as President Donald Trump accuses Rosenstein and other top DOJ officials of corruption, and the Russia probe of being a politically motivated “witch hunt” against him and his associates.

Rosenstein has lately been on the receiving end of heightened criticism from GOP lawmakers.

Last week, he and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee in a controversial and highly contentious hearing about the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and Russia probe.

Among other things, several Republican congressmen accused Rosenstein and other senior officials of running afoul of proper protocol when overseeing the two investigations. They also accused the FBI of surveillance abuses related to former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

DOJ veterans say that as Rosenstein’s top deputy, Schools is well positioned to help the deputy attorney general make critical decisions, like appointing Mueller, weighing whether or not to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel, green lighting an FBI raid on the properties of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and more.

Schools is “the most important unknown person in DC,” Gregory Harris, a defence lawyer who worked alongside Schools at the US Attorney’s Office in South Carolina, told Slate last year. Kathryn Ruemmler, an attorney who served in the White House counsel’s office under President Barack Obama, said that while Schools’ job is one that “almost nobody outside of DOJ knows about or understands,” it is crucial in maintaining the DOJ’s stability and structure.

Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who has worked with members of Mueller’s team, said the associate deputy attorney general typically has “considerable influence” over such decisions, but that it ultimately depends on the relationship between the people in those roles.

Schools’ name popped up in headlines earlier this year when it surfaced that he was one of the senior DOJ officials who recommended that then-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe be fired hours before he was set to retire. McCabe was ousted after an internal investigation found that he “lacked candor” when speaking to FBI agents about his oversight of the Clinton investigation.

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who spent 12 years at the DOJ, said that while Schools’ position is an important one, “like every slot at DOJ, someone else with good credentials and experience can step into the role.”

“Rosenstein is a career prosecutor so isn’t lost when it comes to key decisions,” Cramer said. “Then again, as we have seen, nobody has the background to effectively deal with this administration and DOJ.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Schools will temporarily be replaced by Bradley Weinsheimer, a 27-year veteran of the DOJ. Weinsheimer currently serves in the DOJ’s national security division, and previously worked at the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC.

Unlike Schools, Weinsheimer will not be briefed or be otherwise involved in overseeing the Russia probe.

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