With Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s job security in question, the spotlight is on the person next in line to oversee the Russia probe should Rosenstein be ousted: the solicitor general.
Noel Francisco, who represents the Trump administration and the United States before the Supreme Court, could take over supervision of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election -- a probe that President Donald Trump calls a witch hunt. Francisco has questioned the role of special counsels and has said that executive privilege shields presidents from most investigations, NRP and Mother Jones have reported.
He told a House panel in 2007 that “my own personal belief is that when you hand these issues off to career prosecutors in the public integrity sections in the U.S. attorneys' offices in the Department of Justice, those attorneys are generally better able to assess whether a case should be pursued.”
Politico noted too that he has accused fired FBI Director James Comey of political bias and the FBI of overreach. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he co-authored, Francisco suggested that Comey had used “kid gloves” in his investigation into possible criminal violations by Hillary Clinton, Politico reported. While a lawyer at the law firm Jones Day, he accused the FBI of overreach in its investigation of former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, arguing successfully that the Supreme Court should throw out the conviction because McDonnell had not acted on behalf of the businessman who gave him expensive gifts.
His past positions raise the question of whether he would view Robert Mueller's Russia probe as another example of partisan overreach, Politico wrote.
Monday morning was filled with speculation that Rosenstein would be fired or would quit, but in the end, he remained in the job. Now Rosenstein is to meet with Trump on Thursday to discuss his future in the Justice Department.
Rosenstein is overseeing the Russia probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself in light of his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
Under Justice Department rules, the department's third-ranking official, the associate attorney general, should be Rosenstein’s successor, but the last associate attorney general, Rachel Brand, left early in the year and has not been replaced.
Francisco, a member of the Federalist Society, was a clerk for the U.S. Justice Antonin Scalia and a law partner at Jones Day with White House counsel Don McGahn, NPR has reported. The solicitor general position, to which he was confirmed by a divided Senate, 50 to 47, is his “dream job,” NPR wrote.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has cast doubt on Francisco’s ability to oversee the Russia probe.
Christie told ABC News in April: "I can tell you, Noel Francisco, very talented lawyer, but to be Solicitor General, you have a specific skill set and running a Russia collusion investigation is probably not one of them.”
Francisco was part of the team who helped former President George W. Bush in the recount in Florida during the 2000 election and went on to work in the Bush White House.
He argued Trump’s travel bans before the Supreme Court, telling the court that the last iteration was not a so-called Muslim ban because it excluded most of the Muslim world. The court ultimately upheld the ban by a 5-4 vote.