President Trump is not yet through the first 100 days of his tenure, and it seems like every week is punctuated with some scandal or unprecedented action from his office. His actions affect regular Americans, to be sure, but some of his actions have caused increased chatter amongst members of the legal community – the least of which was the recent termination of 46 U.S. Attorneys by Attorney General Sessions.
The firing that made the most waves was that of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara after he refused to resign upon Mr. Sessions’ request. Weeks earlier, Mr. Trump had promised Congress that he would be keeping Preet. It is difficult to ignore the significant that Mr. Preet prosecuted alleged Russian spies posing as businessmen in New York City two years ago. Some watchdog groups have accused the mass request for resignations as a cover to get rid of Preet in an attempt to avoid further investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. However, it is important to note that there is usually a regime change under each new administration, with U.S. attorneys resigning. It is customary, although not automatic. What makes this situation unusual is that most appointees will remain on board through the next administration until their successors are appointed, confirmed and a smooth transition is established.
Some Senators have expressed concern about the effect the firings could have, despite the fact that the deputy attorney generals – or those who are second in command – will take over current investigations and prosecutions. No new U.S. attorneys have yet to be nominated by the Trump administration, which is what has led to the consternation in the opposition leadership. Some worry that the administration of justice has been harmed.
Conversely, the U.S. Attorney of Utah, John Huber, remains on board despite submitting his resignation later. Apparently, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch beseeched A.G. Sessions to keep Huber in his role until his successor could be appointed and confirmed. Similarly, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente, had her resignation denied. Ms. Boente was the interim attorney general sworn in after Trump fired acting A.G. Sally Yates for refusing to enforce his immigration ban before A.G. Sessions could be confirmed. Additionally, Rod Rosenstein’s resignation was refused. Mr. Rosenstein has been nominated to take over as the deputy attorney general but still needs Senate confirmation. Rosenstein will be tasked with either leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign by Trump if he is successful, or he will appoint a special prosecutor. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Rosenstein faced dozens of questions concerning Russia and A.G. Sessions’ recusal.
It is somewhat ironic that A.G. Sessions requested the resignation of the remaining 46 attorneys so soon after he was faced with similar calls for his resignation after he failed to disclose conversations with Russia while working with the Trump campaign in his confirmation hearings. Additionally, A.G. Sessions went under the axe when U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, appointed under the Clinton administration, similarly requested the resignation of the 93 U.S. attorneys, all Reagan and Bush appointments. He apparently still has the copy of the letter he received from Ms. Sessions 24 years ago.