A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty

Trump admin pursues law-enforcement goals without U.S. attorneys

It’s been more than a month since Donald Trump fired dozens of U.S. Attorneys, without having others lined up to take their place. As the Washington Post reports, the White House still hasn’t even tried to fill those prosecutorial vacancies.
The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/28/17, 9:16 PM ET

Fired US attorney at nexus of multiple Trump scandals

Rachel Maddow reports on the number of investigations tied to Donald Trump that were being conducted through the office of Preet Bharara before the Trump administration fired him as U.S. attorney.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making aggressive law enforcement a top priority, directing his federal prosecutors across the country to crack down on illegal immigrants and “use every tool” they have to go after violent criminals and drug traffickers.

But the attorney general does not have a single U.S. attorney in place to lead his tough-on-crime efforts across the country. Last month, Sessions abruptly told the dozens of remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations immediately – and none of them, or the 47 who had already left, have been replaced.
For those who may need a refresher, let’s recap how we got to this point. On Friday, March 10, 46 Obama-era federal prosecutors were told to submit their resignations and clean out their offices before close of business. These federal prosecutors weren’t given advance notice or any kind of explanation.

To be sure, they knew this was a possible outcome – they were appointed by a Democratic president who was no longer in office – but these U.S. attorneys had been working under the Trump administration for nearly two months, overseeing a series of ongoing federal cases. At least one of these prosecutors, New York’s Preet Bharara, was specifically told he could keep his job, before the White House ousted him.

At the time, we knew Trump had no one lined up to take these U.S. attorneys’ place. What we didn’t know is that the president still wouldn’t have new prosecutors in place nearly six weeks later.

Whenever the subject comes up, Republicans are quick to note that the broader dynamic isn’t necessarily unusual: new presidents replace U.S. attorneys with their own slate of federal prosecutors, and this has happened many times before. It wasn’t controversial when President Obama replaced Bush’s U.S. attorneys, the argument goes, so it shouldn’t be controversial to see Trump replace Obama’s.

The trouble is in the specific details. Modern presidents from both parties have handled the transition in prosecutors in a much more gradual and orderly way, with a process spanning months, and in some cases, years. U.S. attorneys working on big cases were told they could stay on, for example, and administration took care to avoid disrupting the system.

Trump and his team did the opposite. What’s unclear is why.

Many of the questions that emerged in early March remain unanswered. Why was one U.S. attorney fired without explanation after being told he could stay? Did any of these prosecutors’ dismissals relate to ongoing cases the White House wanted to derail? Why did nearly four dozen U.S. attorneys have to clean out their desks immediately?

Given the administration’s ambitious law-enforcement agenda, why didn’t Trump prioritize the nomination of new U.S. attorneys?

These are the sort of questions Congress might ordinarily ask, if oversight were still a priority on Capitol Hill.

Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and Justice Department

Trump admin pursues law-enforcement goals without U.S. attorneys