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Number-two Justice Department official to resign

Deputy Attorney General James Cole speaks as Attorney General Eric Holder listens during a news conference at the Justice Department May 19, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong, Getty Images

Last Updated Oct 16, 2014 3:15 PM EDT

Deputy Attorney General James Cole plans to step down from his post as the second-highest-ranking official at the Justice Department, an administration official confirmed Thursday to CBS News.

His decision sets up a cumbersome task for President Obama in the months ahead as he labors to replace the entire top tier of one of his cabinet agencies. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intent to resign, and Tony West recently left his position as the department's No. 3 to accept a job at Pepsi.

Cole, who's been in the job for almost four years, was in charge of running day-to-day operations at the Justice Department. He was among the administration's chief public defenders of the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of Americans' phone records and has led the charge in reforming re-entry procedures for prisoners and orchestrating the federal government's role in policing marijuana.

In a statement to CBS News, the Justice Department lauded in particular Cole's smart fiscal policies, having saved the agency "millions of dollars through numerous initiatives, including cutting conference costs and chairing the department's Advisory Council for Savings and Efficiencies."

The department says Cole has no immediate plans once he vacates the seat. He'll stay on to aid the transition to a newly appointed or acting deputy attorney general, but based on Holder's timetable it seems likely that will be after the midterm elections.

Mr. Obama said earlier this week he would delay picking a replacement for Holder until after Nov. 4, a move that will shield the new nominee from the ugly politics that precede elections, but which could breed a showdown at the end of the year with a lame-duck Senate.

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