US official overseeing Russia collusion probe to leave: Reports

Washington, DC, USAUpdated: Jan 09, 2019, 07:20 PM IST
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US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Rod Rosenstein has had oversight of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections to Trump's campaign.

Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the Russian election meddling probe, is set to leave the US Department of Justice in coming weeks as President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the department is set to take over, several US media outlets reported on Wednesday.

Rosenstein has had oversight of the US Special Counsel's probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections to Trump's campaign. Then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, an early Trump supporter during the presidential campaign, had recused himself.

William Barr, Trump's pick to replace Sessions who was fired soon after the November midterm congressional elections, is set to appear for a confirmation hearing next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must weigh his nomination before the full Senate considers his approval.

ABC News, citing multiple sources familiar with Rosenstein's plans, reported that he intended to leave in the coming weeks as Barr transitioned into the job. Fox News, citing unnamed Justice Department officials, also reported the planned departure in weeks. CNN also reported the move, citing an unnamed source.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify the reports and representatives for the Justice Department could not be immediately reached for comment.

If confirmed, Barr, who was US Attorney General under the late President George H W Bush from 1991 to 1993, would oversee the investigation led by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a fellow Republican chosen by Rosenstein.

Barr's nomination is likely to meet heavy scrutiny regarding the ongoing investigation, particularly from Democrats, following reports he had written a memo in June questioning the probe. Rosenstein has said the memo had no impact on the department's work.

Officials told ABC and Fox that Rosenstein had planned to serve as deputy for two years - a milestone that was approaching.

He also wanted to help ensure Barr, if confirmed by the Senate, had a smooth transition, ABC said, citing sources.

Rosenstein has stayed on under Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, whose controversial appointment has sparked numerous legal challenges and raised questions about what role he would play regarding the investigation.

Rosenstein has been frequently criticized by Trump, who calls the Russia investigation a "witch hunt" and denies any collusion with Moscow. Russia has also denied any election interference.

US intelligence agencies have found that Russia sought to sway the 2016 presidential vote to Trump over Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.