Rod J. Rosenstein, 46, Maryland’s top federal prosecutor, stood before the microphones that day with no such bravado. “We don’t do fishing expeditions,” he said.
Rosenstein’s office had quietly spent more than five years building a case against Johnson (D). There were cooperating witnesses, documents seized in raids of homes and businesses, secret guilty pleas and Johnson’s voice on wiretaps.
The investigation was typical Rosenstein, say those who know him well: fair, methodical and detail-oriented. Even courtroom adversaries talk about the career prosecutor as if he were the real-life version of a Jimmy Stewart character.
“He is the poster child for the professional, competent, ethical and fair-minded prosecutor,” said defense lawyer Robert C. Bonsib, a former state and federal prosecutor.
Johnson, the highest-ranking official ensnared in the wide-ranging probe, ultimately admitted guilt and is facing sentencing. The case was so airtight that without a single trial, 14 others pleaded guilty, including Johnson’s wife — former County Council member Leslie Johnson — a former county housing official and three police officers.
Another sign of Rosenstein’s ability: He is one of only three U.S. attorneys — out of 93 nationwide — appointed by then-President George W. Bush who has been kept on by the Obama administration.
Colleagues say he keeps his politics out of the office. In 2007, Bush nominated Rosenstein to a federal appeals court. Maryland’s two Democratic senators blocked that move, portraying him as a carpetbagger and saying he should stay on as U.S. attorney.
One day this summer, Rosenstein faced a jury in federal court in Greenbelt. He held a miniature scales of justice.
A little theatrical flair to help convince jurors that defendant Jason Thomas Scott was a burglar and carjacker who had committed home invasions.
“The evidence in this case is so overwhelming, it practically breaks the scales,” Rosenstein told them.
Road to office
Rosenstein oversees 75 prosecutors, who work in Baltimore and Greenbelt, but he makes a point of personally trying about a case a year. His competitive side spilled out at Scott’s trial, as he walked out of the courtroom with defense lawyer Kobie Flowers to await a verdict.
“Don’t go too far,” Rosenstein said. Though he was smiling, he made clear he expected a quick conviction. After eight hours, the jury found Scott guilty of 11 counts.
Rosenstein grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and he graduated summa cum laude from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning a law degree from Harvard in 1989, he got a job in the Justice Department’s public integrity section. He soon earned a reputation as a a top-flight trial lawyer.