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29 April 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 2:24pm

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general who oversaw the Mueller probe, has resigned. But why now?

By Nicky Woolf

Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversaw the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference – which finally wrapped up earlier in April – has announced his resignation.

In a letter submitted to President Trump on Monday, Rosenstein gave no hints at his reasons for resigning other than mentioning that “the median” tenure for a deputy attorney general is 16 months. He will step down on May 11, Rosenstein said.

It is more than likely, however, that simply having overrun the median tenure for the position is not the real reason Rosenstein is resigning. His frozen expression while standing behind Attorney General William Barr while Barr spun the Mueller report on the day of its public release was so dramatic as to spawn a multitude of memes.

Rosenstein, if one reads between the lines, may well have been – as many others were – unhappy about how Barr was misleading the public about the report’s contents.

His letter contained what some might read as veiled references to this misconduct. He pointedly quotes several former attorneys general talking about how the Justice Department has to be free of political considerations, including a line from John Ashcroft from 2001 calling for “a professional Justice Department … free from politics”. Other lines from the letter, including saying that “credible evidence is not partisan & truth is not determined by opinion polls,” also tantalisingly hint at his state of mind.

Nonetheless, it is unclear exactly how Rosenstein feels about the way the Mueller report was handled by his boss, Barr, and the Trump administration. He has long been expected to resign after the publication of the Mueller report.

What comes next is also unclear. Rosenstein, who, as the official overseeing the Mueller investigation, has been at the very centre of one of the biggest stories on the planet for two years, may be planning to follow former FBI director James Comey in writing a tell-all book about his experience. If so, it is likely to be explosive.

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But all of that, too, may be little more than hopeful projection. His letter also ends with the Trumpian formulation that, at the Justice Department, “we always put America first”. Whether he means that to be an implicit critique of Barr or as presidential flattery meant to soothe White House fears is also, at this point, unclear.