All eyes are on Solicitor General Noel Francisco amid reports Monday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could be on the chopping block.
Rosenstein is expected to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss his future with the Justice Department and the administration. If he’s ousted or resigns, Francisco is widely expected to succeed Rosenstein as head of the Mueller probe.
In that role Francisco would have enormous control over the Russia inquiry, including determining its scope and resources.
While Rosenstein has advocated for Mueller’s independence — in December, he told a House panel that “it would be very difficult to find anybody better qualified for this job” — Francisco has stayed mum, at least in public, on his views on the inquiry.
A February sighting of Francisco dining with Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the same day that Trump lashed out against Sessions, calling him “disgraceful,” was perceived by some as evidence that there was daylight between Francisco and the president.
Nonetheless, his expansive views on executive power worry the president’s critics who fear that Francisco could limit the inquiry. They have also pointed to Francisco’s former employment at Jones Day, the powerhouse law firm that has represented Trump and his allies for years, as a potential conflict of interest.
Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Mueller, declined to comment. The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.
As the solicitor general, Francisco has vigorously defended Trump administration policies and successfully defended the constitutionality of a version of the president’s travel ban in front of the court. A stalwart conservative, Francisco has largely kept his head down and avoided the limelight in an administration that has been riven by drama.
He’s a longtime resident of the Republican legal establishment, getting his start clerking for Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court. On Friday, he was the keynote speaker at a Washington event hosted by The Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group.
Francisco also worked on the controversial election recount for George W. Bush, and later served in his administration for four years, first as associate counsel to the president and later in the Office of Legal Counsel as deputy assistant attorney general.
Francisco has expressed skepticism of special counsel investigations. In 2007, amid the controversy surrounding Bush’s firing of a number of U.S. attorneys, Francisco was asked about the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor.
“My own personal belief,” Francisco said at the time, “is that when you hand these issues off to the 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.”