The Senate Judiciary Committee gave initial approval Thursday to Jeffrey Rosen, President Trump’s nominee to become the next deputy attorney general, paving the way for a full Senate vote next week.
The 12-10 party-line vote came the same day that Rod Rosenstein, the man Mr. Rosen would replace, was given a send-off party at the Justice Department.
Current and former colleagues recounted the arrows Mr. Rosenstein has taken during his two years on the job, which coincided with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Mr. Rosenstein initiated that investigation, naming Mr. Mueller, then helped bring it to an end in March, announcing with new Attorney General William Barr that Mr. Trump did nothing criminal.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the probe, forcing Mr. Rosenstein to take charge, said the department’s No. 2 official fulfilled his duty to the country.
“It was no little matter,” Mr. Sessions said of the probe. “There was a continual uproar. Decisions had to be made and those decisions fell to him and him alone. He became the attorney general for this matter. He made every decision based on what he thought was best for this country. He stayed the course during some of the most difficult times during the history of the department.”
Mr. Rosenstein took arrows from the president and his allies, who accused him of overseeing a partisan witch hunt aimed at undermining the Trump administration.
He didn’t help himself by discussing — in what he says was a joke — whether to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare the president unsuitable for office.
Yet now that he has sided with Mr. Barr and cleared Mr. Trump, his Democratic fans and a Trump-skeptic press have turned on him.
Mr. Barr joked about the social media frenzy surrounding the press conference he and Mr. Rosenstein held to announce the release of the special counsel’s report last month, where the deputy was stone-faced behind Mr. Barr.
“Which one of us is capable of the most deadpan expression?” Mr. Barr said Thursday, calling Mr. Rosenstein up to his side.
“I do my best work in congressional hearings and Rod does his best work standing behind me at press conferences,” the attorney general quipped.
Mr. Rosenstein said he felt the oath of office pledging loyalty to the Constitution overrode “loyalty to anyone else.”
“Seeking the truth requires an open mind,” he said. “There are many people in this room who stood with me on the ramparts of justice.”
Though some Democrats are happy to see Mr. Rosenstein go, they are showing deep antagonism toward Mr. Rosen, who cleared the Judiciary Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, said Mr. Rosen was never a prosecutor nor has he been in the Justice Department — both problems for someone who joins at a time when the department is in the midst of a tough battle with congressional Democrats over demands for the special counsel’s full report.
“We also need someone who’s willing to act as an independent voice for the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that Jeffrey Rosen is that person,” Ms. Feinstein said.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, voiced similar concerns, saying Mr. Rosen could turn the Justice Department into Mr. Trump’s “personal law firm.”
“Jeffrey Rosen with his lack of experience with the DOJ, but with his experience in Republican politics, is good for Donald Trump but not good for the country,” she said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, defended Mr. Rosen, highlighting his experience as deputy secretary at the Transportation Department.
“I think he is exceedingly well-qualified,” Mr. Graham said.