US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking the resignations of 46 US attorneys who were holdovers from the administration of former US president Barack Obama, the US Department of Justice said on Friday.
Many of the federal prosecutors who were nominated by Obama have already left their positions, but the nearly four dozen who stayed on in the first weeks of the administration of US President Donald Trump have been asked to leave “in order to ensure a uniform transition,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.
“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,” she said in a statement.
By Friday evening, US attorneys across the country had publicly announced their resignations.
It is fairly customary for the 93 US attorneys to leave their positions after a new president is in office, but the departures are not automatic and do not necessarily have to happen all at once.
One US attorney appointed by former US president George W. Bush, Rod Rosenstein, remained on the job for the entire Obama administration and is the current nominee for deputy attorney general in the Trump administration.
Department spokesman Peter Carr late on Friday said that Trump asked Rosenstein and US Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who was US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to stay.
The action on Friday was similar to one taken in 1993 by then-US attorney general Janet Reno, who soon after taking office sought the resignations of the US attorneys appointed by former US president George H.W. Bush.
Tim Purdon, a former US attorney in the Obama administration, recalled that Obama permitted George W. Bush’s appointees to remain on until their successors had been appointed and confirmed.
“The way the Obama administration handled it was appropriate and respectful and classy,” Purdon said. “This saddens me, because many of these people are great public servants and now they are being asked to leave.”
US attorneys are federal prosecutors who are nominated by the president, generally upon the recommendation of a home state senator, and are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the territories they oversee.
They report to department leadership in Washington, and their priorities are expected to be in line with those of the attorney general.
Sessions took perhaps a veiled swipe at their work in a memorandum earlier this week, saying that prosecutions for violent crime have been on the decline, even as the number of murders has gone up.
The demand for resignations seems a way to ensure he will have a team of new federal prosecutors more likely to share his agenda.
Friday’s announcement came months after Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan and one of the most prominent federal prosecutors, said he had been asked by Trump to stay on and that he intended to.
Bharara’s office declined to comment on Friday.
Montana US Attorney Mike Cotter said he received a telephone call from Boente telling him “the president has directed this.”
“I think it’s very unprofessional and I’m very disappointed,” he said. “What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are US attorneys need to be gone?”
“I gotta write that letter. It’s going to be a one-liner,” he added.
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