Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Purge Continues: DoJ Edition

At the Department of Jusitce, it's not unusual for an incoming AG to ask US attorneys to leave, normally the deal is that the attorney stays until a suitable replacement is found.  Obama and Eric Holder kept several Bush-era attorneys because they were good prosecutors, others were let go and replaced.  Chris Christie was a Bush-era US Attorney for New Jersey when he resigned in 2008 to run for Governor.  That kind of stuff happens all the time. Bill Clinton famously cleaned house, and Dubya turned around and fired nearly all of Big Dog's appointments in the middle of his second term.

What doesn't happen is the Attorney General collecting the heads of 46 US attorneys at once, a day after FOX News host Sean Hannity demands a "purge" of the Justice Department on TV.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked for the resignations of 46 US attorneys, igniting anger from officials who say they were given no warning about their dismissals. 
The Justice Department announced the firings Friday afternoon, and many prosecutors had not been formally notified or even told before they were fired, according to a law enforcement source. Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente was in the beginning stages of calling each US attorney individually to tell them they had to resign when the DOJ issued a statement. 
A law enforcement source charged that "this could not have been handled any worse" because there was little warning. Many prosecutors found out through media reports that they had to resign today
A Justice Department spokeswoman explained that forced resignations are a matter of course when turning the agency over to a new administration. 
"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. The attorney general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition," Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said. 
It is common for administrations to ask holdovers to step down, but what is less common is the abruptness of Friday's announcement. Two sources familiar with the Justice Department tell CNN they were unsure for some time whether such an action would happen and had been looking for some type of announcement -- but received radio silence. 
"There was not any particular clarity from the Justice Department as to what the future held for the US attorneys" until now, one source said. 
But the Justice Department argues that the agency will continue to function as normal. 
"Until the new US attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our US attorney's offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders," Flores said.

And of course among the carnage is Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for Manhattan.  If the name sounds familiar, his district included Wall Street, and of course, Trump Tower in NYC.  Trump spoke to him personally in December to ask him to stay on.  Now?  Looks like Preet is out on the street.

It’s unclear whether Bharara might be asked to complete some of his cases before leaving office. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the request for resignations applied to “all Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys.” An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said all U.S. attorneys were being asked to submit resignations and that they were all expected to be accepted.

“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,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

If Bharara submits his resignation and it’s accepted, some of the most prominent and difficult Justice Department investigations could be disrupted. They include inquiries into Deutsche Bank AG’s handling of “mirror trades” that helped Russian clients convert rubles into Western currency, a high-profile securities fraud case against Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and political corruption cases involving New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Bharara had been heralded by Republicans and Democrats for aggressively prosecuting corruption in Albany. One of the reasons he may have been asked to stay was because of his pursuit of several political corruption cases of Democratic state officials.

While incoming presidents have changed out U.S. attorneys before -- most notably Bill Clinton -- the latest purge comes in a politically charged atmosphere as Democrats call for a special counsel to look into the Trump camp’s relationships with Russia during the presidential campaign.

You do the math.
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