Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller and remains his most visible Justice Department protector, is expected to leave his position soon after William Barr is confirmed as attorney general, an individual familiar with the plans said on Wednesday. Barr could be installed at the Justice Department as early as February.
Rosenstein has been overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing "Russiagate" investigation since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the role in March 2017.
Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Rosenstein had always planned to stay around two years.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who had backed legislation to protect the Mueller probe, said Rosenstein's presence at DOJ "has been reassuring to many of us who are concerned about the independence of the special counsel's investigation".
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer painted a different picture in remarks on the Senate floor, citing a memo Barr wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein past year.
Mueller is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.
Senate hearings for Mr Barr's confirmation are scheduled to begin on 15 January.
A person familiar with Rosenstein's thinking told HuffPost that there's now no concrete, specific plan in place for Rosenstein's resignation but said he's expecting to depart after Barr's confirmation.
Rosenstein plans to leave at some point after that, though no date has been set and there is no formal plan for the departure, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss internal conversations publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"My guess is that he is making room for the new attorney general to build a team that he wants around him", she added.
Graham said Barr told him about his longtime relationship with Mueller. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Mr. Trump to rescind Barr's nomination Wednesday, claiming that Barr would not be able to objectively oversee the Mueller investigation.
It also said that Rosenstein has notified President Donald Trump of his intentions. Barr's opinion of Mueller is "very high", Graham said.
However Mr Rosenstein was stripped of the role late a year ago when Mr Sessions was forced out by the president.
After Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey in May 2017, legal experts suggested Mueller was pursuing an obstruction of justice case against the president.
Rosenstein has been frequently criticised by Trump, who calls the Russian Federation investigation a "witch-hunt" and denies any collusion with Moscow.
"The Senate 'should subject Mr. Barr's views to the strictest of scrutiny next week and I still believe, after the revelations about Mr. Barr's unsolicited memo, President Trump ought to withdraw this nomination", Schumer said.