U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, who has worked to break up violent criminal gangs in Baltimore and root out corruption in Maryland's prisons, is being considered for "a top position" in President-elect Donald J. Trump's Justice Department, two sources familiar with the discussions said Friday.
Rosenstein, who was appointed the state's top federal prosecutor by Republican President George W. Bush in 2005, is the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country. In heavily Democratic Maryland, he's earned praise from both sides of the aisle.
"There are a lot of people of both parties who will applaud this selection," said Jason M. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who worked with Rosenstein. "Rod believes in justice without fear or favor. He was committed to pursuing corrupt public officials without regard to political party. He cares about doing the right thing. Politics never enters the equation."
Rosenstein declined to comment Friday. He referred questions to Trump's transition team, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump has nominated Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to become attorney general. If appointed, Rosenstein would serve as a top lieutenant to Sessions.
A Harvard-trained lawyer who lives in Bethesda, Rosenstein prosecuted Black Guerrilla Family gang members, inmates and corrections officers who orchestrated a massive contraband smuggling scheme inside the Baltimore City Detention Center in 2013.
In October, he alleged a similar scheme involving 80 defendants — the largest federal indictment in Maryland history — at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover.
He has used federal anti-racketeering laws to go after violent gangs, and has developed a reputation for bringing together law enforcement at all levels — municipal, county, state and federal — to fight crime.
"Rod may very well be one of the most decent, honorable men that I know," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger. "He has always been there for every state's attorney who needed him."
Shellenberger said Rosenstein's office was instrumental in prosecuting cases county prosecutors referred to him, including the 2007 killing of witness Carl Lackl Jr.
"Rod's staff took that case and convicted everyone involved," Shellenberger said.
Harvard law school professor Philip B. Heymann said he believed Rosenstein is the perfect person to help remedy some of the "trouble we've had in policing."
"I'm Democratic and he's very Republican," Heymann said. "But there's no one I'd rather have making decisions. He's very wise and he's totally fair."
Weinstein said he and Rosenstein embarked on an anti-gun violence strategy a decade ago that didn't immediately yield results. Undeterred, Rosenstein pledged to stick to the plan, Weinstein said, and the next year shootings fell dramatically.
"Rod had the courage to stay the course," Weinstein said. "We believed arresting the right people and not more people was the right approach. It took a lot of guts, but he believed in what we were doing."
Rosenstein also landed high-profile convictions of Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Baltimore County state Sen. Thomas Bromwell, both Democrats.
"It's an excellent move by President-elect Trump," said Baltimore lawyer Andrew C. White. "Rod is absolutely unassailable. He's one of the best trial lawyers I've ever seen. He has a brilliant mind, tremendous judgment and he knows how to run an organization. He is exactly what President-elect Trump needs."
Rosenstein has spent his entire career in the Justice Department. He started in 1990 as a trial attorney with the public integrity section and never left. The Senate voted unanimously in 2005 to confirm his nomination as U.S. attorney for Maryland.
The following year, he was vetted for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., before the appointment stalled. Then-Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, argued that he was too effective as Maryland's top prosecutor to lose to the judiciary.
Jamie Gorelick, deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, said Rosenstein could right step into the job.
"If Rod Rosenstein is appointed, it would be a very good thing for the Department of Justice," she said. "He is one of the most highly regarded career prosecutors in the department. He would be capable from Day One of running the department."