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Why Trump’s prosecutor purge could haunt the GOP

Until Friday, Barbara McQuade served as United States attorney in eastern Michigan. By Saturday, one day after the Trump administration demanded her resignation, her prospects as a candidate for governor or attorney general were the talk of the state Democratic Party.

McQuade was among more than 40 U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Barack Obama and let go by the president last week, an act that suddenly flooded the political marketplace with experienced federal prosecutors of the sort both parties love to tap to run for high office.

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It’s a move that could come back to haunt the GOP. New York is buzzing with rumors about what’s next for Preet Bharara, the highest-profile of the former U.S. attorneys, who has been tipped for elected office in the past. Kenneth Polite, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, resigned Friday and immediately reinvigorated talk of a run for state attorney general, mayor of New Orleans, or Orleans Parish sheriff.

“They come with a lot of advantages,” said former DCCC political director Ian Russell, whose department at the House Democratic campaign committee recruited federal prosecutors as potential candidates. “There’s the prosecutorial experience, the sense of respect Americans have for the impartial justice department. They’ve got political connections, but their work is non-political in nature and there are firewalls to protect that. Many have fundraising and political support networks they could tap.”

Many U.S. attorneys are little-known among voters, but they tend to be media-savvy and their positions come with relationships with party leaders. They have also been vetted by the federal government and confirmed by the Senate. Their experience prosecuting criminals makes for good campaign ad fodder — especially big-ticket cases that have lingered in the public memory.

The office run by McQuade successfully prosecuted former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab during her tenure.

“There’s some people who I think would like to see her run for governor,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said of McQuade. But attorney general is also in the mix, he said: “Different people have suggested both.”

In Ohio, former U.S. attorney Steve Dettelbach is another top Democratic prospect for statewide office in 2018. Dettelbach, who resigned in 2016, has not yet announced his plans but has already retained a treasurer in preparation for running for a statewide office, likely attorney general.

The last time the presidency changed hands, it was Republicans who reaped the benefits of U.S. attorneys’ prestige and connections.

Within a year of the end of the George W. Bush administration, Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey, and a collection of fellow former U.S. attorneys were already running high-profile campaigns. Matt Mead, a Bush-era U.S. attorney, won election as Wyoming governor in 2010, the same year that Pennsylvania’s Pat Meehan and Arkansas’ Tim Griffin were elected to the House. Meehan quickly became one of the best fundraisers in the House landscape when he jumped into a Philadelphia-area swing seat, which he won.

Two other Bush-era U.S. attorneys would follow them into the House: Susan Brooks of Indiana in 2012 and John Ratcliffe of Texas in 2014. Years earlier, the U.S. attorney post in Rhode Island was Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s springboard to statewide office there.

“There is a lot of political skill that is invested in people assigned to those jobs,” said Thomas Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney under both Bush administrations, who noted that President Bill Clinton removed him from office in a similar fashion to the prosecutors recently ousted by Trump. “And to be blunt, you don’t get those jobs without asking for them, so there’s that kind of small-level electioneering.”

Russell said it is “logical” to expect Democrats to try recruiting as many of the ex-prosecutors as possible for state and federal offices in 2018.

“I think you’re going to see former U.S. attorneys look at running for attorney general positions, I think you’ll see them running for Congress,” Russell said. “If they came out of a high-profile district in a major media market, they can be great recruits for statewide office.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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