By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
President Bush yesterday nominated a veteran Justice Department lawyer for the top federal prosecutor post in Maryland -- a choice viewed as noncontroversial following the tempestuous and politically charged term under the high-profile U.S. attorney who stepped down early this year.
Rod J. Rosenstein, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's tax division, will need to be confirmed by the Senate before taking his post full time. He could be appointed as interim U.S. attorney for Maryland before confirmation, but it was unclear last night when he would take office. He would replace Allen F. Loucks, Maryland's interim U.S. attorney. Loucks was appointed in January after Thomas M. DiBiagio stepped down after a controversial three-year tenure. DiBiagio, who cited family and financial considerations in his decision to leave, became a partner in the law firm Beveridge & Diamond.
Rosenstein is "well thought of in the legal community, in the law enforcement community and within the Justice Department," said Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D), who worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in the District for six years. "Having come from the Justice Department [headquarters], he's certainly going to be more connected to Justice than some of his predecessors have been, and that's going to be important."
Jervis S. Finney, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief legal counsel, said Ehrlich "is most willing to accept the selection of Rod Rosenstein as U.S. attorney by the White House and Department of Justice."
Finney, a former U.S. attorney, said that Ehrlich (R) and Rosenstein have not met but that Finney spoke with Rosenstein several times recently. Finney said, however, that neither Ehrlich nor he played a role in the selection process. "With the DOJ [Department of Justice] and the White House conducting the interviews and selection process, Governor Ehrlich did not propose any particular person," Finney said.
Vickie LeDuc, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland, declined to comment last night, referring questions to Justice Department headquarters. A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately return phone calls last night.
Rosenstein also declined to comment, pending the Senate confirmation process.
Rosenstein, 40, oversees the federal criminal tax enforcement program. He was assistant U.S. attorney in the Maryland office from 1997 to 2001 and began working in the Justice Department in 1990, the year after he graduated from Harvard Law School. He was among the prosecutors in the Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton's Arkansas business dealings.
"I don't know anyone who isn't looking forward to Rod coming aboard," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning of the Baltimore office. "He was really well-liked by his colleagues. He's a really nice guy. He had a good reputation. I think judges really liked him. He was a straight arrow."
Andrew C. White, a former federal prosecutor who worked with Rosenstein in the Greenbelt office, said, "he is an amazingly talented prosecutor" with a pleasing personality in court. He said they worked together in the late 1990s on a complex drug case that involved multiple jurisdictions. White, a lawyer in private practice in Baltimore, said Rosenstein was the lead attorney and was able to make the case "understandable to a jury."
He is known as "nose-to-the-grindstone, low-profile type of prosecutor," Gansler said. DiBiagio, by contrast, was often in the news.
DiBiagio's supporters, including Ehrlich, say he revived the office's tradition of aggressively prosecuting public corruption. His critics, however, say he was driven by a partisan agenda.
Those critics pointed to a dispute with Gansler over who should prosecute the Washington area sniper suspects; an investigation that focused on then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) during her unsuccessful run for governor in 2002 against Ehrlich; and a probe of the all-Democrat Baltimore City Council. Townsend was not charged, and DiBiagio's interim successor ended the Baltimore council investigation with no charges.
Others mentioned as possible candidates to succeed DiBiagio were Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle and Geoffrey R. Garinther, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland in private practice.
Staff writers Allan Lengel, Eric Rich and John Wagner contributed to this report.