Rosenstein confirmed as U.S. attorney in Md.

Undisputed choice quickly rose through Justice Dept.

July 02, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

In its closing hours before adjourning for a holiday recess, the Senate confirmed yesterday Rod J. Rosenstein, a high-ranking government lawyer who quickly ascended the ranks at the Justice Department, as Maryland's U.S. attorney.

Rosenstein, 40, of Bethesda, could arrive in Baltimore to start his new job as the state's top federal prosecutor as soon as next week.

Rosenstein declined to be interviewed about his plans for the office of 70 attorneys in Baltimore and Greenbelt, saying he is still waiting for President Bush to sign his commission.

He released a brief statement: "I am grateful to President George W. Bush for giving me this opportunity to serve the people of Maryland, and to Senator Paul Sarbanes and Senator Barbara Mikulski for accepting my nomination. I look forward to rejoining the distinguished men and women of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"As we work to enhance public safety and pursue justice for Marylanders," the statement continues, "we will strive to inspire public confidence by adhering to the highest ethical and professional standards."

Rosenstein had previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, emerging as the leading candidate to move up when former U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio announced his resignation in December. Allen F. Loucks, a deputy in charge of the office's civil cases, has been serving in an interim role since January.

The U.S. attorney's office can be an influential one, using its broad prosecutorial power to tear apart violent drug gangs and dismantle white-collar criminal organizations. In Baltimore, federal prosecutors have intervened in cases - especially those involving witness intimidation - where the city's overwhelmed courts failed to yield convictions.

For more than three years, DiBiagio's office aggressively pursued public corruption investigations, scoring a number of high-profile victories in such cases as investment banker Nathan A. Chapman Jr. and former Baltimore police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who was Maryland's state police chief when he was indicted.

But DiBiagio received criticism after The Sun published internal e-mails a year ago in which DiBiagio called for three "front-page" corruption indictments before Election Day, prompting Justice Department officials to issue a rare reprimand to the prosecutor.

Loucks replaced DiBiagio and quickly dismissed his predecessor's indictment against a former state official and ended the office's investigation into the financial practices of the Baltimore City Council.

Rosenstein comes to the office with a strong background in public corruption cases, including work on the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton administration. Most recently, he has served as principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's tax division.

His nomination by President Bush in May met no opposition and was lavishly praised by those who said Rosenstein mixed legal talent with strong, reformist leadership. At a going-away party at the Justice Department's Great Hall this week, speakers teased the two-time Ivy League graduate - from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard - for being a "geek," but uniformly lauded his intellect, tireless devotion to his work and open mind.

"He has a sign in his office that says `Don't tell me what I want to hear. Tell me what I need to know,'" Assistant Attorney General Eileen J. O'Connor, Rosenstein's former boss, told the group of more than 50 colleagues.

Rosenstein's selection appeared to be more a product of his work in and support from the Justice Department, breaking with the tradition of selecting U.S. attorneys who have close ties to Maryland's political establishment. Rosenstein's selection, in the eyes of some, served to distance the office from DiBiagio, who received his appointment with the active support of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Known by some for his conservative ideological bent, Rosenstein also worked for Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. But Rosenstein, who trained in public corruption cases, left the office before the investigation delved into the relationship between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

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