By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, Maryland's top federal prosecutor, is in the late stages of being vetted as a possible nominee to fill a long-standing vacancy on a federal appeals court in Richmond, law enforcement sources and people who have been questioned as part of the process said.
Rosenstein, a Justice Department veteran, has been mentioned as a candidate for the judgeship almost from the moment he assumed the prosecutor's job two years ago. But the extensive background check conducted in recent weeks by the FBI suggests that the White House is far closer than it previously was to offering Rosenstein, a Republican, as a nominee.
Rosenstein, 42, is widely credited with increasing cooperation with local law enforcement authorities and restoring calm to his office, which had been roiled under his predecessor, Thomas M. DiBiagio.
"I think he has elevated the standing of the U.S. attorney's office," Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said. "He's truly a prosecutor's prosecutor."
Gansler was one of a half-dozen people who said they had been contacted by the FBI about Rosenstein. A law enforcement source also confirmed that Rosenstein is being vetted. Some of the sources asked to remain anonymous because Rosenstein has not been nominated.
The White House, which would ultimately decide whether to nominate Rosenstein, declined to comment on the issue yesterday. Rosenstein declined to discuss his possible nomination. "Obviously, I'm not in a position to comment on it," he said.
The political leanings of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, for which Rosenstein is being considered, resonate nationally because the panel has played a key role in terrorism cases. Although long viewed as one of the nation's most conservative courts, a growing list of vacancies -- now five -- has left the court evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees. The panel reviews federal court decisions from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North and South Carolina.
The support of home-state senators can be key in winning Senate confirmation, especially now, as President Bush faces a Democrat-controlled Congress. It was not immediately clear whether Maryland's two Democratic senators would try to block a Rosenstein nomination.
"Rod Rosenstein is doing a good job as the U.S. attorney in Maryland, and that's where we need him," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said through a spokeswoman. "The White House should look at Maryland's federal bench for experienced jurists who have already passed the Senate with bipartisan support."
A message left late yesterday seeking comment from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin was not immediately returned.
It is unclear who might fill his position if Rosenstein departs for the court. Several lawyers interviewed yesterday mentioned Baltimore lawyer Andrew C. White, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland. Past candidates for the job have included Geoffrey R. Garinther, also a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland now in private practice.
During Rosenstein's tenure in Maryland, his office has vigorously prosecuted gangs, using federal racketeering laws to indict more than two dozen alleged members of MS-13. The office also secured a guilty plea from former state senator Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County) in a corruption case.
In October, the Justice Department announced that a civil case litigated by Rosenstein's office had led to an agreement by database giant Oracle to pay $98.5 million to settle claims that a software maker it acquired in 2005 had overcharged the government by providing false pricing information to the General Services Administration.
Timothy F. Maloney, a Greenbelt lawyer who often practices in federal court, said he was contacted two weeks ago as part of the vetting process by a federal official who indicated that Rosenstein was being considered for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
Maloney said he thought Rosenstein would be an excellent choice for the federal bench. "He's the kind of lawyer both Republicans and Democrats could embrace," Maloney said.
Gansler described Rosenstein as having "the prefect judicial disposition" and said he "understands the role of the prosecutor, which is not to seek conviction in each and every case but to do the right thing."
"He just strikes me as a guy who wants to do the right thing for the right reasons, absent any political considerations or any other irrelevant factors," Gansler said.
Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.