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Trump team ousts Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ request for the U.S. attorneys’ resignations comes as he is preparing to implement a series of significant policy shifts at the department. | Getty

The president had previously asked Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in New York, to stay on.


President Donald Trump’s administration asked all remaining U.S. attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama to offer their resignations Friday, setting off confusion about the impact of the move and prompting warnings from Democrats that abrupt changes could undermine law enforcement.

“The attorney general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores said in a statement Friday. “Until the new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our U.S. attorney’s offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders.”

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Flores initially declined to comment when asked if the prosecutors had to leave their posts right away, but said later Friday that the resignations were to be “effective immediately.”

The removal of U.S. attorneys has been politically fraught for years, with the midterm dismissal of eight chief federal prosecutors in December 2006 causing a firestorm that ultimately led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Friday’s move to dismiss the political appointees of a previous administration seemed more routine, but the timing and scope of such dismissals have often led to charges and counter-charges that they violated prior precedents.

The most surprising aspect of Trump’s Friday action was the ouster of the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, whom Trump had previously asked to stay on. Bharara said publicly after their Trump Tower meeting in November that he had agreed to work for the new administration.

A spokeswoman for Bharara had no immediate comment, but Sen. Chuck Schumer said he was “particularly” troubled by the removal of the Manhattan-based prosecutor, who once worked as Schumer’s chief counsel.


“The President initiated a call to me in November and assured me he wanted Mr. Bharara to continue to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District,” Schumer noted.

“While it’s true that presidents from both parties made their own choices for U.S. Attorney positions across the country, they have always done so in an orderly fashion that doesn’t put ongoing investigations at risk. They ask for letters of resignation but the attorneys are allowed to stay on the job until their successor is confirmed,” Schumer wrote.

“By asking for the immediate resignation of every remaining U.S. Attorney before their replacements have been confirmed or even nominated, the President is interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice,” the New York Democrat added.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, said she was “surprised” by the Trump administration’s move, which she said was at odds with assurances she had received from the White House.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once. Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement,” Feinstein said in a statement.

When the mass ouster was first announced Friday afternoon it was unclear whether it included the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, Dana Boente, who is currently serving as acting deputy attorney general, or Trump’s nominee to serve in that position on a permanent basis, the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland, Rod Rosenstein.

However, the Justice Department said Friday evening that Trump decided Boente and Rosenstein would continue in their posts. “The President called Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein tonight to inform them that he has declined to accept their resignation, and they will remain in their current positions,” Flores said.

While the White House initially indicated to reporters that all 46 of the remaining Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys were told to depart, a senior administration official told POLITICO Friday night that the list of which prosecutors would be told to exit was “not finalized.”

At least one prosecutor, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based U.S. attorney Robert Capers, indicated he was told Friday to clear out by the end of the day.

“This afternoon, I was instructed to resign my position as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, effective March 10, 2017,” Capers said in a statement. “It has been my greatest honor to serve my country, New York City and the people of this district for almost 14 years, with the last 17 months serving as United States Attorney.”

Capers said he was being replaced on an acting basis by a career deputy.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions back to the Justice Department.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ request for the U.S. attorneys’ resignations comes as he is preparing to implement a series of significant policy shifts at the department, pushing for tougher prosecution of gun and drug offenses and parting company with the Obama administration’s embrace of more lenient sentences for some drug convicts.

In 2007, President George W. Bush’s administration sought to defend his firing of eight U.S. attorneys by asserting that President Bill Clinton had fired all sitting U.S. attorneys in 1993 “in one fell swoop,” as a top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales put it.

However, that was not entirely true. In both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the vast majority of U.S. attorneys were replaced in the first year, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2007. The Clinton team asked for resignation letters in March, but also allowed many prosecutors to stay until their successors were confirmed.

Trump has not yet formally nominated anyone to a U.S. attorney post.

Bharara may have hinted that his job security was in jeopardy when he opened a personal Twitter account just a week ago.

His inaugural personal tweet advised: “Stay tuned…”

Matthew Nussbaum, Shane Goldmacher and Annie Karni contributed to this report.

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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