Over the weekend, the sky was again falling among mainstream media journalists and the pundit class after President Donald Trump’s administration ordered resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys.
The U.S. attorneys were mostly holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration. The 46 have remained in the first weeks of the Trump administration, but they were asked to leave “to ensure a uniform transition,” AP reported.
The move, ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is not unprecedented or even scandalous. Taking a lesson from very recent U.S. history will reveal as such.
In 1993, when then-President Bill Clinton started his first term in office, Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the resignation of all 93 U.S. attorneys, which is more than twice as many as the number Sessions fired. There were only 46 Obama-era appointees to remove because the 47 had already resigned from their posts.
In fact, Sessions himself was among those 93 U.S. attorneys who were fired by Reno. He held the position in Alabama. Most of the attorneys dismissed by Reno were appointed under the Bush and Reagan administrations.
A justice department official told CNBC that Sessions still has the letter Reno sent him regarding his dismissal.
At the time, Reno stated she asked for their resignations “so that the U.S. attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and so that we can begin to build a team that represents a Department of Justice that represents my views and the views of President Clinton,” as reported by The Sun-Sentinel.
The one surprise was the firing of Preet Bharara, the now-former U.S. Attorney to the Southern District Court of New York, who was told by President Trump he wanted him to stick around. Bharara refused to resign at first, so Trump fired him.
The Justice Department commented on who would take the leadership in the respective U.S. attorneys offices.
“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,” a statement said.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, former President Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys during his first two years in office, while President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years. In 1981, during Reagan’s first year in office, 71 of 93 U.S. attorneys were replaced.
But this hasn’t stopped Democratic lawmakers from seizing on the controversy, real or imagined.
“Disturbing that 46 US Attorneys asked to resign. Need all US Attorney Offices at full strength,” tweeted Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.
Longtime Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote: “The White House counsel told me there would be an orderly transition, as has been done previously. Clearly this is not the case.”
On the surface, it may appear chaotic, but Trump has his reasons for firing the 47 Obama holdovers. First, it will further galvanize his voter base, who view the removal as one step to “drain the swamp,” one of Trump’s slogans and campaign promises. On a popular pro-Trump Reddit forum, the move was widely applauded, while mainstream media outlets denunciations were resoundingly criticized.
Second, it’s worth noting that U.S. attorneys represent the federal government in the U.S. district court and in the U.S. court of appeals. They receive oversight, supervision, as well as administrative support services through the Justice Department’s Executive Office, and some U.S. Attorneys participate in the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys. This means that the president or U.S. attorney general has the power to hire and fire U.S. attorneys, and it should be standard operating procedure.
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