When Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on 46 U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Obama to submit their resignations Friday, Democrats and the media howled against the “sudden” and “unexpected” move.
What they failed to mention is after each transfer of power, every president exercises the right to appoint new candidates to fill the 93 U.S. attorney districts nationwide. Although some U.S. attorneys carry over their appointments from one administration to another, it is a normal process for new presidents to select their own candidates.
“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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“As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice,” Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement Friday. “The attorney general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”
Flores added, “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.”
The Justice Department noted that President Donald Trump would not accept the resignations of two prosecutors, Dana Boente of Virginia and Rod Rosenstein of Maryland. Boente had served as the acting attorney general prior to Sessions’ confirmation after Trump dismissed Sally Yates from the position in late January and currently serves as the acting deputy attorney general. Rosenstein, who served as a U.S. attorney under both Bush and Obama, is Trump’s pick to serve as deputy attorney general and is still undergoing the confirmation process.
Democratic administrations have followed the same process in handling the turnover of U.S. attorneys.
In 1993, former Attorney General Janet Reno asked every holdover U.S. attorney appointed by President George H.W. Bush to submit their resignations shortly after former President Bill Clinton took office.
But Democrats — many of whom are hypersensitive regarding almost every move that Sessions makes — are crying foul over the attorney general’s decision.
“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,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “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.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed his particular frustration with Sessions’ decision to include U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of New York in his resignation request. Bharara, one of the most high-profile current U.S. attorneys, is well-known for his “aggressive prosecutions of insider trading and public corruption,” as The Wall Street Journal noted. Bharara had met with Trump in November to discuss potentially retaining his position.
“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 said in a statement.
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“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,” Schumer added. “They ask for letters of resignation but the attorneys are allowed to stay on the job until their successor is confirmed.”
Senate Democrats vehemently fought Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general and exhaustively dragged out the process. Since Sessions assumed office, they have also looked for every opportunity to undermine their former Senate colleague.
The turnover of U.S. attorneys will be key to the shift in focus Sessions has promised from the Department of Justice. The attorney general has vowed to focus on escalating murder and violent crime cases in cities, while the Obama administration often aggressively pursued alleged civil rights abuses at police departments.