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Tag: noel francisco

Russia Investigation at Risk with Potential Departure of Rosenstein

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifying before a House committee in December 2017.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The potential departure of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has raised legal questions over who would succeed him and oversee the special counsel investigation of Russia.

With Rosenstein in charge of the Robert Mueller investigation, a lot is at stake.

Legal experts say President Trump likely has two options if he fires Rosenstein, who has come under fire following reports that he suggested secretly recording Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

Under a federal law about the order of succession, Solicitor General Noel Francisco would be the next in line to replace Rosenstein. But Francisco may recuse himself because he worked for Jones Day, a law firm that has represented Trump’s campaign. Next in line is Steven Engel, the head of the Justice Department.

But another law, the Vacancies Act, could give Trump more options because it gives the president the authority to temporarily fill executive positions with acting officers, according to the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal reports:

But if invoked, the Vacancies Act could open the field—at least on a temporary basis—to a much larger pool of potential successors. The list could include other Senate-confirmed Trump administration officials in and outside the Justice Department. It could also include senior Justice Department officers who haven’t gone through Senate confirmation but have served in the agency for at least 90 days and have attained the highest-level pay grade.

While the Vacancies Act could give Mr. Trump more flexibility, it’s a more legally uncertain path. For one, it’s not clear if the Vacancies Act could be used to replace Mr. Rosenstein if he is fired.

Under the law, a vacancy arises when a relevant officer “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” Legal experts disagree about whether getting fired constitutes being “otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” A 1999 Office of Legal Counsel memo—citing Senate floor debate—suggests that a firing would count. The issue would likely be litigated.

Meet the Little-Known Trump Official Who Could End the Mueller Probe

Solicitor General Noel Francisco

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The fate of the special counsel investigation that has cast a long shadow of the White House may ultimately fall into the hands of Solicitor General Noel Francisco, a little-known Trump appointee who happens to be no fan of the FBI or its former director, James Comey.

Many legal experts believe Trump lacks the authority to fire Rosenstein on his own, so the next quickest way to end the special counsel probe is to get someone else to do it.

If Trump fires Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and is overseeing the investigation, the next in line to become Mueller’s boss is Francisco, who has a history of fighting to protect what he sees as broad executive privileges.

Like Trump, Francisco has claimed Comey, whom the president fired in May, is motivated by a political biased against Trump. That has raised concerns that Francisco would be more likely to follow orders to fire Mueller, whose 11-month investigation has landed indictments against more than 20 people and entities.

“I don’t think we know enough to be confident,” Eric Columbus, a former senior Obama Justice Department official, told Politico. “I doubt he would fire Mueller but could limit him, which has always been the greater concern.”

Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, the removal of the deputy AG would give control of the Mueller investigation to the third-ranking Justice Department official, the associate attorney general, a job that has been vacant since Rachel Brand resigned from the position in February and has yet to be replaced.

Under Justice Department rules, Francisco, 48, is the next in line.

If Trump follows through, the move would be strikingly similar to President Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre in which he fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general for refusing to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. The terminations left the decision up to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who fired Cox. A judge later ruled the termination was illegal.