Politics

Democratic Senator Pushes Debunked Narrative on Fired U.S. Attorneys

New Hampshire’s Shaheen falsely suggests Trump firing Obama prosecutors was nefarious

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) raised an old and discredited narrative Tuesday — that there was something unusual and nefarious about President Donald Trump’s decision to fire most of the U.S. attorneys his predecessor had nominated.

In fact, new presidents routinely replace the top federal prosecutors just as they pick new Cabinet members. But Shaheen suggested otherwise as she grilled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a Senate appropriations subcommittee meeting.

“My understanding, at least in New Hampshire, we haven’t seen wholesale firing of U.S. attorneys in the way that we did in this administration,” she said. “Was there a reason why every U.S. attorney in the country was fired on the same day?”

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Rosenstein, who ostensibly was appearing to talk about the Justice Department’s $27.7 billion budget request, said Shaheen was not even factually accurate that Trump fired “every” U.S. attorney. He pointed out that he was one of those U.S. attorneys, and he got a promotion.

“There were four who were not fired,” he said. “But I was not in the department at that time. I learned about the firings after the decision had been made. So I have no insight into why that decision was made.”

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What Rosenstein did not say, but could have, is that it is rare for presidents to retain more than a handful of U.S. attorneys from previous administrations. In March 1993, then-President Bill Clinton’s attorney general — Janet Reno — demanded the resignations of every single U.S. attorney in the country. That included Jay Stephens, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who was in the middle of a corruption investigation of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.).

“I believe that we are actually going to be ahead of most recent administrations in the speed by which we’re appointing U.S. attorneys.”

Rosenstein also tried to reassure committee members that he, and he alone, has authority to fire the special counsel he appointed to take over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He said he sees no cause to fire Robert Mueller.

Shaheen, meanwhile, expressed displeasure that Trump fired the U.S. attorneys in New Hampshire and elsewhere without having replacements in hand.

“I am concerned, however, that … we had an en masse firing of U.S. attorneys in the country and as far as I know, at least in New Hampshire, we haven’t made any nominations to replace the person who was fired,” she said.

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Rosenstein noted that the administration on Monday announced its first round of U.S. attorney appointments, seven or eight nominees.

“What I can assure is that we are moving very expeditiously, and I think there’s been some press that I think might be somewhat misleading about that,” he said. “I believe that we are actually going to be ahead of most recent administrations in the speed by which we’re appointing U.S. attorneys.”

Rosenstein said he knows from his 12 years as U.S. attorney in Baltimore that those jobs are important to the Justice Department’s mission.

“In fact, the last two Saturdays I’ve spent in the department interviewing candidates for about 10 districts each weekend,” he said. “And so, we anticipate that by the end of the summer, we’ll see a large number of U.S. attorneys nominated throughout the country.”

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