The Justice Department (DOJ) said on Feb. 9 that it is beginning the process of replacing top federal prosecutors who were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
The practice, which the department stated is commonplace for new administrations, would allow President Joe Biden to install his own nominees to lead U.S. attorney offices across the country. The department stated that approximately one-third of U.S. attorney offices are already led by acting or interim leadership.
“We are committed to ensuring a seamless transition. Until U.S. Attorney nominees are confirmed, the interim and acting leaders in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will make sure that the department continues to accomplish its critical law enforcement mission, vigorously defend the rule of law and pursue the fair and impartial administration of justice for all,” Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said in a statement.
While most U.S. attorneys have been asked to hand in their resignation, Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who is overseeing the tax probe of Hunter Biden, and John Durham, who has been appointed as special counsel to investigate the origins of the counterintelligence probe into Trump and Russia, will remain in office, Reuters reported, citing an anonymous department official.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the transition during a Feb. 9 press conference, saying that Biden is looking forward to working with the Senate to quickly fill the vacancies in the coming weeks. She also confirmed that Weiss and Durham will remain in office.
“The president has also made clear that he wants to restore the independence of the Department of Justice and to ensure it remains free of any undue political influence. That will be helped when our attorney general is of course confirmed. But the decision to leave two U.S. attorneys in their roles is a reflection of that commitment,” Psaki said.
The DOJ’s announcement came on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that they have set a schedule for the confirmation hearing of Merrick Garland, Biden’s pick to lead the department.
The hearing, which will run over two days, is scheduled to begin on Feb. 22. Garland’s testimony will be held on the first day, and external witnesses will be invited to testify on day two, according to the committee leaders.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Jan. 21 that he had met with Garland and discussed priorities at the Justice Department, including implementing the First Step Act, addressing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreaks in federal prisons, reducing gun violence, and reinvigorating the DOJ’s role in civil rights and voting rights.
Garland’s “previous experience in the Justice Department, his understanding of the Department’s proper role, his deep respect for the Department’s career workforce, and, of course, his Illinois roots make him an excellent nominee for Attorney General,” Durbin said.
Former presidents have also asked U.S. attorneys to resign although some have done so over a broader time period. The practice of removing U.S. attorneys has repeatedly garnered widespread scrutiny, but previous administrations have defended the move saying that it is a tradition for new presidents.
President Bill Clinton demanded the resignation of all 93 attorneys after he took office in 1993. Similarly, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also replaced top federal prosecutors but over a longer period of time. Trump also asked 46 to resign in 2017.