Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has tapped Edward O’Callaghan, a widely respected veteran prosecutor, as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, a post that is among the most important at the Department of Justice. The PADAG, as the position is known within DoJ, is charged with wide-ranging responsibilities including oversight of investigations and Department operations.
O’Callaghan is assuming a post previously held by FBI Director Christopher Wray and Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland among others. The Russia investigation has made it even more crucial now.
The PADAG also serves as “a consigliere” to the deputy attorney general, Matthew Axelrod, who held the position under Rosenstein’s predecessor Sally Yates, told CNN. “[S]omeone to discuss the most sensitive issues with, to give you sound advice, and to ensure your decisions get implemented.” It is in this part of the job that O’Callaghan will be especially important.
Rosenstein, who is responsible for overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and potential coordination between President Trump’s campaign and Moscow related to Kremlin meddling in the 2016 election, may prove to be among the most consequential deputy attorney generals to ever hold the role. Ed O’Callaghan’s experience with corruption and counterintelligence prosecutions will be key to helping Rosenstein navigate the tricky issues that the Russia probe will raise.
O’Callaghan’s well-regarded work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he was co-chief of the Counterterrorism and National Security Section from 2005-2008, makes him especially well-suited for this role. O’Callaghan led high-profile prosecutions related to the United Nations Oil for Food Program scandal, as well as a number of other prominent corruption and national security cases. More recently, O’Callaghan served as the number two official in the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
O’Callaghan has long been on legal watchers‘ short list for a prominent position in the Justice Department. Last year, it was widely speculated that he might be tapped to succeed Preet Bahara as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. While President Trump ended up picking Geoffrey Berman, a close associate of Trump-pal Rudy Giuliani instead, the fact that O’Callahan was at the top of so many people’s lists for the role is an indication of how highly-regarded he is within the legal community.
As Mueller’s Russia investigation enters its final stage, Rosenstein and O’Callaghan will have a difficult needle to thread. Agitation from Trump allies in Congress seeking to discredit the probe will surely grow louder. And, if President Trump decides to finally scratch his longstanding itch to fire the special counsel, Rosenstein and O’Callaghan will be squarely in the middle of it. O’Callaghan is known for a deliberate, thoughtful, and clear-headed style that makes him especially well-suited to balancing the twin tasks of protecting the nation’s legal institutions and ensuring that the investigation is carried out fairly.
It will not be an easy assignment, but O’Callaghan is no stranger to preposterous situations. In 2008, he led the McCain campaign’s efforts surrounding the “Troopergate” investigation, a family squabble involving Sarah Palin’s former brother-in-law, State Trooper Mike Wooten that, whipped by the winds of the 2008 Presidential campaign, mushroomed into accusations that then-Governor Palin improperly tried to get him fired. The Alaska Personnel Board later cleared Palin of wrongdoing.
I was in part responsible for drafting Ed O’Callaghan into that particular goat rodeo. His sense of humor, keen legal insight in a case in which the facts often bordered on the absurd — whether or not a moose was shot out of season, was actually a key issue — and his deft navigation of an overheated political environment proved invaluable.
The challenges Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will likely face in the months ahead are weighty. But, judging from my experience in the trenches with Ed, Rosenstein could not have picked anyone better to help him navigate them.