If Trump fires Rosenstein — as he has reportedly considered doing multiple times in recent months — the position would normally be filled by the Department of Justice's No. 3 official, the associate attorney general. But the last person to hold the job, Rachel Brand, resigned in February, and a permanent replacement has yet to be appointed.
If Rosenstein was fired under such circumstances, Solicitor General Noel Francisco would take his place.
Francisco could then be thrust into the national spotlight and tasked with one of the most politically charged responsibilities in modern history: firing the special counsel at the president's request.
Despite his high standing, Francisco has kept a low profile at the department. Some experts have suggested that Francisco could be more amenable to Trump's whims than Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the first place in May 2017.
Trump has recently accused both Mueller and Rosenstein of having conflicts of interest that preclude them from fairly completing the investigation.
Francisco, on the other hand, recently intervened in a Securities and Exchange Commission case and reasserted Trump's constitutional ability to hire and fire basically all federal authorities, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
"The Constitution gives the president what the framers saw as the traditional means of ensuring accountability: the power to oversee executive officers through removal," Francisco said in the case, the newspaper reported.
However, Francisco also joined Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a dinner in February that was widely viewed as a symbol of defiance against Trump. A decision by Sessions, a favorite target of Trump's anger, had been called "disgraceful" by the president in a tweet earlier that day.
If Francisco is for any reason unable to helm the role of deputy attorney general, the line of succession will proceed as follows:
- Steven Engel: assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel
- John Demers: assistant attorney general, national security division
- U.S. attorney for Virginia's eastern district (Dana Boente resigned in October. There has been no permanent replacement for his role.)
- Robert Higdon: U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina
- Erin Nealy Cox: U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas