If reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has either resigned or is set to be fired by the president today are true, Solicitor General Noel Francisco would be next in line to take charge of the Robert Mueller-led special counsel investigation into links between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself from participating in the investigation.
Francisco, a Senate appointed Trump administration nominee, has a long history of conservative politics. He was a law clerk for Judge J. Michael Luttig, a conservative member of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals before working under former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia law as a clerk, was an associate White House counsel in the George W. Bush administration and also worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for two years during the Bush administration.
Before being appointed to his current role, Fransisco argued three cases to the Supreme Court during the Obama administration, most famously blocking President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
Francisco got Senate confirmation to clear his way toward becoming solicitor general in a party-line 50-47 vote just over a year ago, ahead of the start of the last term of the Supreme Court.
If Rosenstein were to go, who would then supervise Mueller? This turns out to be a tricky question:
– AG Jeff Sessions is recused
– Rachel Brand resigned
– The new occupant has not been confirmed
— Bloomberg Opinion (@bopinion) September 24, 2018
While Francisco has avoided commenting directly on the investigation, he hasn’t been shy in making it clear how he feels about figures deeply involved with the Trump administration, specifically James Comey and the FBI, per Politico.
In 2016, Fransisco accused Comey’s FBI of overreaching in high profile political investigations and overstepping their investigative bounds — arguments similar to those voiced by right-leaning critics of the Mueller investigation.
Francisco then successfully argued that the Supreme Court should negate the corruption conviction of former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who he represented.
Francisco later wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he accused the FBI of using “ambush interviews” and other “heavy-handed” tactics to investigate McDonnell.
Along with a fellow Jones Day co-worker, he made a point to attack Comey personally, suggesting that the then-FBI chief had used “kid gloves” to play down the FBI investigation into possible criminal violations by President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think Francisco would fire [Mueller],” Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior counsel for the Clinton Whitewater special prosecutor who has known Francisco for years and called him “a straight shooter” with a stellar reputation, told Politico.
Democrats don’t appear to be as sure as others about Fransisco’s restraint, however.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, mentioned her concern about Fransisco’s signing of legal briefs supporting President Trump’s controversial January 2017 executive order to institute a Muslim travel ban during Fransisco’s confirmation hearing.
Feinstein called that a worrying sign that Fransisco might simply serve as a rubber stamp for Trump’s political interests rather than act as an “independent voice,” even going as far as to send a letter to Francisco and several other Justice Department officials asking them to “publicly commit to refuse any order or request — whether express or implied — to interfere in the Special Counsel’s investigation.”