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Who Is Jeffrey Rosen, New Acting Attorney General?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Attorney General Bill Barr is out, so starting next week, Jeffrey Rosen will serve as the acting attorney general for the final weeks of the Trump presidency. NPR's Carrie Johnson is here to tell us more about him. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So, you know, even though the Justice Department has been in the news a lot these last few years, Jeffrey Rosen just isn't exactly a household name. Can you just tell us a little more about him?

JOHNSON: Yeah. He's 62 years old, but he's spent most of his career at a big law firm, Kirkland & Ellis. Rosen has been the deputy attorney general for over a year now. But unlike some of his predecessors, he had no prior experience as a federal prosecutor. And he's mostly handled administrative matters inside the Justice Department. Probably the most high-profile cases he's touched are the big antitrust case against Google and the big settlement over opioids with Purdue Pharma.

CHANG: Oh, OK. Well, President Trump had been pushing justice to do more to investigate his claims of voter fraud. Barr had said that there wasn't evidence of widespread voter fraud. In fact, it was one of the reasons Barr fell out of favor with the White House. So do you have a sense of how Rosen might respond to that kind of political pressure?

JOHNSON: A source of mine, a current prosecutor, says that Rosen is more political, more of a loyal trooper and may be less inclined to resist the White House than Bill Barr. But at his confirmation hearing last year, Rosen said he believed cases, especially prosecutions, should be free of improper political influence. Here's more of what he said back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFFREY ROSEN: If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody, then I will say no.

JOHNSON: People who know Jeff Rosen tell me they think he's going to try to avoid controversy on his way out the door in the last month, that he wants to protect his reputation. But there is precedent here, Ailsa. President Trump tends to push his attorney generals and then pushes them out.

CHANG: Yeah, exactly. Well, let's look towards the final few weeks here of the Trump presidency. Can you talk a little bit about the cases we're expecting to come up? Just give us a quick rundown.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I can see three issues now that could provoke a showdown between the Justice Department and the White House in the next month. One is pardons for Trump associates, his family members, maybe even the president himself. The White House has largely been doing pardons on its own without DOJ input, though.

A second set of issues involves declassifying information about the Russia investigation back in 2016. We know Trump wants that material out in the open, but outgoing Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray have been resisting. And finally, there's Trump's desire for a special counsel to investigate his baseless claims of voter fraud, like you mentioned, or a special counsel to investigate President-elect Joe Biden's son Hunter, who seems to have some tax problems. And Ailsa, since it's 2020, there's also probably something else out there lurking, too.

CHANG: (Laughter) Exactly. Well, we are still waiting for President-elect Biden to announce his picks for top Justice Department jobs. Tell us, who's in the mix right now? What have you heard?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This is the last of the so-called big four Cabinet picks for Biden to announce. I'm told the team wants to announce several prospective nominees at the same time - not just the attorney general, but the deputy, the associate and maybe the solicitor general. They want a diverse lineup. And the transition team's spokesman says a decision will be made before Christmas.

Three top figures I'm hearing from sources under consideration are former Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who's a good friend of Biden; President Obama's deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, who's been taking some flack this week from Senate Republicans; and appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, a moderate who could help restore some public confidence after a rocky four years at justice. Lisa Monaco, a top Obama-era aide, could also be in the mix.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTAN ARP'S "PLEXI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.