- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2018

With Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s ouster, Solicitor General Noel Francisco is slated to oversee the Robert Mueller probe under the Justice Department’s succession plan.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

Typically, the investigation would fall to the number three spot at the Justice Department, but Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand resigned earlier this year.

That leaves Mr. Francisco in line to oversee the probe, which President Trump has deemed a “witch hunt.” He hasn’t publicly addressed the probe, but has had harsh words for Mr. Mueller’s close friend, ex-FBI boss James Comey.

Mr. Francisco was confirmed by the Senate in September 2017 on a narrow 50-47 vote, that fell largely along party lines. He once clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he referred to as his “dear mentor,” during his Senate confirmation.

Although Mr. Francisco has remained mum on the Mueller probe he now stands to inherit, he has argued against government overreach in political corruption investigations.

He even blasted frequent Trump sparring partner and ex-FBI Director James Comey for “heavy-handed” tactics in the bureau’s probe of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican. Mr. McDonnell’s conviction was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016.

Mr. Francisco has also accused Mr. Comey of using “kid gloves” in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Prior to joining the Trump Administration, Mr. Francisco was a partner at the private law firm Jones Day, where he argued a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, he argued that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate infringes upon religious freedom in Zubik v. Burwell. Mr. Francisco was also a member of the legal team that represented President George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount case.

Mr. Francisco served in the White House Counsel’s Office under President Bush from 2001 to 2003 before becoming a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2003 to 2005. In 2005, he left government to join Jones Day.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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