In his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general in March, Rod J. Rosenstein said his upbringing in his "small hometown of Lower Moreland" had instilled in him a "straightforward" set of values.
"Work hard. Play by the rules. Question assumptions, but treat everyone with respect. … Remain gracious in times of defeat, and humble in moments of victory," he told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. "And try to leave things better than you found them."
Two months later, Rosenstein, who attended Lower Moreland schools and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School before embarking on a career as a prosecutor and U.S. attorney, would write a memo recommending the firing of FBI Director James Comey amid an investigation into whether Russia interfered in the presidential election. President Trump abruptly fired the director Tuesday night.
The White House has said the firing was a result of Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server. Rosenstein, 52, wrote that he could not "defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken."
In his letter firing Comey, Trump wrote that he appreciated Comey "informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation," apparently referring to the Russian investigation. Democrats and some moderate Republicans were quick to denounce the firing as bad optics at best and indicative of an attempted cover-up at worst.
Rosenstein, for his part, isn't talking about the letter or his role in the firing. Reached by the Boston Globe Tuesday morning, he told a reporter: "I'm not going to talk about that. Are you surprised by that?"
In his confirmation hearing testimony, Rosenstein said his family had instilled in him a call to public service. His mother, Geraldine, served as a school board member in Lower Moreland for years, including a stint as president.
In a letter the 17-year-old Rod J. Rosenstein wrote to the Inquirer in the summer of 1982, he showed an exacting nature and an interest in history: He complained about an editorial on Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina that described the Republican senator as an "unreconstructed Reconstructionist" because he opposed reforms to the Voting Rights Act.
"Apparently, you meant to imply that Mr. Helms and his associates were expressing anti-black attitudes in their actions," the teen wrote. "If this was the intent, the comparison is historically incorrect." Reconstructionists were Republicans who pushed civil rights policies after the Civil War, Rosenstein wrote, and southern Democrats rolled back those rights.
He graduated summa cum laude from Wharton with a degree in economics, and then attended Harvard Law School before joining the Department of Justice. He served as the U.S. attorney for Maryland under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
During his confirmation, he testified that "political affiliation is irrelevant to my work," touting crime reductions in Maryland and his work prosecuting corrupt police officers.
But the Russian investigation did come up during his confirmation hearing – by then, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling, and Rosenstein was poised to head the investigation instead.
Democrats tried to get Rosenstein to say he would appoint a special prosecutor to the investigation, but he "would not commit," the Associated Press reported. Still, he said, he would "handle the investigation like any other if evidence of criminal wrongdoing emerged," the AP wrote.
"I don't know the details of what if any investigation is ongoing, but I can certainly assure you, if it's America against Russia or America against any other country, I think everyone in this room knows which side I'm on," Rosenstein said.