Official who could take over Mueller probe once worked on the 2000 Florida recount

There’s a Florida connection to the latest reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will be out of a job—changing the U.S. official in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election.

U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco, who would be next in line to lead the investigation if Rosenstein leaves his post or is fired, once worked for President George W. Bush’s team during the 2000 Florida recount that ultimately resulted in Bush becoming president over then-Vice President Al Gore.

Francisco was confirmed as solicitor general on a 50-47 party line Senate vote in October 2017. The solicitor general, the fourth highest position at the Department of Justice, is in charge of representing the federal government in front of the Supreme Court.

Francisco clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and worked on the Florida recount with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and dozens of other lawyers before working at the Bush White House in the mid 2000s. He then worked in private practice during the Obama administration.

Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, a former general counsel for Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the executive director for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is higher on the Department of Justice’s organizational succession chart but would not assume oversight of the Mueller investigation because he has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenstein is at the White House on Monday amid reports that he may resign or be fired days after the New York Times reported that he talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office and secretly taped the president. Some of Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress have tried to impeach Rosenstein in recent weeks, though the effort has not made much progress.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation when he acknowledged that he failed to inform the U.S. Senate during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has consistently expressed displeasure with Sessions and Rosenstein on Twitter.

Alex Daugherty, 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty