Abrupt dis­missals rile some fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors

Purge not ex­pected to have a ma­jor im­pact on cases.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Sadie Gur­man

Two days WASHINGTON — be­fore At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions or­dered dozens of the coun­try’s top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors to clean out their desks, he gave those po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees a pep talk dur­ing a con­fer­ence call.

The seem­ingly abrupt about-face Fri­day left the af­fected U.S. at­tor­neys scram­bling to brief the peo­ple left be­hind and say good­bye to col­leagues. It also could have an im­pact on morale for the ca­reer pros­e­cu­tors who now must pick up the slack, ac­cord- ing to some close to the process. The quick ex­its aren’t ex­pected to have a ma­jor im­pact on on­go­ing pros­e­cu­tions, but they gave U.S. at­tor­neys lit­tle time to pre­pare deputies who will take over un­til suc­ces­sors are named.

“It’s very, very gut-level re­ac­tion,” said Steven Schle- icher, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor who left Min­nesota U.S. At­tor­ney An­drew Luger’s of­fice in Jan­uary and was still in con- tact with peo­ple there.

The re­quest for res­igna- tions from the 46 pros­e­cu­tors who were holdovers from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion wasn’t shock­ing. It’s fairly cus­tom­ary for the 93 U.S. at­tor­neys to leave their posts once a new pres­i­dent is in of­fice, and many had al­ready left or were mak­ing plans for their de­par­tures. Ses­sions him­self was asked to re­sign as a U.S. at­tor­ney in a sim­i­lar purge by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno in 1993.

But the abrupt na­ture of the dis­missals — done with lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion and not al­ways with the cus­tom­ary thanks for years of ser­vice — stunned and an­gered some of those left be­hind in of­fices around the coun­try.

Fo r mer pros­e­cu­tors, friends and col­leagues imme- di­ately started reach­ing out to each other on a grow­ing email chain to ex­press con­do­lences and sup­port, com- mis­er­at­ing about how un­fair they felt the sit­u­a­tion was.

Some of those ousted were long­time pros­e­cu­tors who had spent their ca­reers com- ing up through the ranks of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

“All of these U.S. at­tor­neys know they serve at the plea­sure of the pres­i­dent. No one com­plains about that,” said John Walsh, an Obama-era ap­pointee as U.S. at­tor­ney in Colorado who re­signed in July. “But it was han­dled in a way that was dis­re­spect­ful to the U.S. at­tor­neys be­cause they were al­most treated as though they had done some- thing wrong, when in fact they had not.”

Peter Neronha, who had served since 2009 as U.S. at­tor­ney for Rhode Is­land, said even be­fore Fri­day he had been pre­par­ing for his even- tual de­par­ture and had writ- ten a res­ig­na­tion state­ment to be re­leased upon his exit. When­ever there’s a change in pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion, he said, “I think it would be un­wise not to be ready.”

It’s not clear why the Jus­tice Depart­ment asked the prose- cu­tors to exit so quickly. Ses­sions gave no warn­ing dur­ing the Wed­nes­day con­fer­ence call in which he ar­tic­u­lated his agenda for fight­ing vio- lent crime.

Much of the pub­lic at­ten­tion since Fri­day has fo­cused on Preet Bharara, the Man­hat­tan fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor who said he was fired de­spite meet­ing with then-Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and say­ing he was asked to re­main.

Trump did ap­par­ently make an at­tempt to speak with Bharara in ad­vance of the Fri­day de­mand for res­ig­na­tions. The pres­i­dent reached out through a sec­re­tary on his staff to Bhar- ara a day ear­lier but the two men never spoke, ac­cord­ing to a per­son told about the conversation but who re­quested anonymity. The White House on Sun­day said the pres­i­dent reached out to thank Bharara for his ser­vice and to wish him good luck.

On Sun­day, some Demo- crats con­demned the de­mand for res­ig­na­tions in highly par- ti­san com­ments. Mary­land Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, the top Demo­crat on the House Over- sight Com­mit­tee, sug­gested Trump might have fired Bha- rara to thwart a po­ten­tial cor­rup­tion investigation, and be­lieved the move added to a lack of trust of the ad­min- is­tra­tion.

SU­SAN WALSH / AP

Two days be­fore At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions gave dozens of the coun­try’s top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors just hours to re­sign and clean out their desks, he spoke with them in a con­fer­ence call but re­port­edly did not hint at what was com­ing.

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