Andrew C. McCarthy explains the history of the most recent brouhaha, President Trump’s en masse firing of the US attorneys, and the reasons and history behind the move:
In March 1993, Janet Reno began her tenure as President Bill Clinton’s attorney general by summarily firing United States attorneys for 93 of the 94 federal districts (one, Michael Chertoff, was retained in New Jersey, at the request of Democratic Senator Bill Bradley). That is more than twice as many as Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions fired on Friday.
Indeed, there were only 46 Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys left for Sessions to relieve because Obama appointees fully understood that this is the way things work. Many of them had already moved on, in the expectation that the president elected in November would replace them — an expectation that became a virtual certainty once it was clear that this change of administrations would be a change of parties, and visions. I
…policy choices are the stuff of politics. They often weigh heavily in presidential campaigns and elections. Law-and-order issues intimately affect people’s lives. When presidents make promises about them, they must expect to be held accountable.
U.S. attorneys are the instruments through which the president exercises his policy discretion. That is why they are political appointees. They do not have power of their own. Under our Constitution, all executive power is reposed in the president alone. Every officer of the executive branch is thus a delegate. The U.S. attorney exercises the president’s power and can be removed at the president’s will.
It is only natural, then, that a president will want his power wielded by his own appointees, whom he trusts to carry out his policy program. And it thus follows that, when there is a transition between administrations that see the world, and the Justice Department’s role in it, as differently as the Obama and Trump administrations, there will be sweeping turnover, carried out rapidly.
I suggest you read the whole thing; it’s not long.
The MSM is treating this in an interesting manner, not atypical. If you just scan a bunch of headlines and don’t read the articles past the first paragraph (as I initially did when the story broke) you might get the impression that something extremely unusual has occurred with these firings. If you read the actual pieces, however, a bit further down in the stories you can find sentences such as this from the Times (headline: “Trump Abruptly Orders 46 Obama-Era Prosecutors to Resign”):
It is not unusual for a new president to replace United States attorneys appointed by a predecessor, especially when there has been a change in which party controls the White House.
Still, other presidents have done it gradually in order to minimize disruption, giving those asked to resign more time to make the transition while keeping some inherited prosecutors in place, as it had appeared Mr. Trump would do with Mr. Bharara. Mr. Obama, for example, kept Mr. Rosenstein, who had been appointed by George W. Bush.
The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And this from CNN, paragraph #4 (in an article entitled “Anger mounts over handling of US attorney firings”):
A Justice Department spokeswoman explained that forced resignations are a matter of course when turning the agency over to a new administration.
So the problem appears to be that the people involved, and their fellow-Democrats, don’t think they were given enough notice.
Nearly every Obama-appointed US attorney had to have known his/her days are numbered. The sole exception would be those who were told they could stay on for the duration. It’s not clear whether Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the southern district of New York, was told that he would be staying indefinitely, but it seems clear he was told he would be staying on at least for a while.
Not only that, but it seems that Preet would be a good guy to keep on. The usually Trump-friendly NY Post has criticized the firing of Bahara, and I’d say rightly so:
Trump and Sessions were right the first time, and they need to rescind the order for Bharara, the most successful prosecutor yet when it comes to undoing New York’s culture of political corruption.
Indeed, this comes as he’s still investigating the de Blasio administration and other key figures in New York for possible corruption. It’s absolutely the wrong time for him to leave.
If Bharara hadn’t been included in the mass firing, it also would have deprived the MSM of their most potent weapon in their criticism of the US attorneys’ firings, although it wouldn’t have stopped the criticism.
The high-profile US attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has indicated he will not submit a letter of resignation as requested by the Trump administration Friday — placing the President in the position of having to fire him in a public standoff, sources tell CNN.
Bharara, who had been told after a meeting with the President-elect in November that he would stay on, felt blindsided by the move, the sources said.
Then there’s this paragraph:
The President-elect asked Bharara to continue as US attorney at the behest of New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who made the request when he and Trump were discussing how they could work together.
As is often the case these days, it’s difficult if not impossible to figure out the truth on the motives for the Bharara firing from reading the press. Is this a way to get back at Schumer? Is it a case of carelessness? Is it just a way to make a statement that a clean sweep is needed? Or has Bharara himself done something to give Trump pause?
Right after writing those words, I noticed that the showdown predicted in that CNN article had just happened. A few moments ago it was announced that Bharara had been fired by Trump.
I repeat: why? We don’t know. We do learn this, which touches on the answer to one question about which I was curious (that is, did Trump originally say he could stay indefinitely, or just for a while, during that earlier meeting?)
After Trump won the presidency, he met in late November with Bharara. The meeting came about, according to people familiar with the matter, after Mr. Trump called Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and congratulated him on becoming the leader of the Senate Democrats. In that conversation, Trump brought up Bharara, and said he was thinking of keeping him in his job, these people said. Schumer praised Bharara and Trump then arranged a meeting with Bharara at Trump Tower.
During the conversation, Trump told Bharara to call Sessions, his nominee for attorney general, who also asked Bharara to stay.
When Bharara was leaving, according to one person familiar with the meeting, he asked the president-elect what he should tell the reporters in the lobby. Trump told Bharara to tell them he was staying on, this person said.
In other words, we don’t know.
Trump is famous for telling people “You’re fired!”. But I agree with Jazz Shaw that this particular firing seems to make little sense, and appears to be “a major, unforced error”:
Bharara has achieved deservedly legendary status in the law enforcement community and you can read the many remarkable stories of his exploits which have been covered here in the past. Replacing him would be a Herculean task in this era of political partisanship and cronyism. Donald Trump has spoken frequently and passionately, both on the campaign trail and in the early weeks of his presidency, about the need to “drain the swamp” in government and restore the trust of the voters and their elected leadership. When it comes to matters such as this, Preet Bharara is an industrial strength suction pump who could turn the Florida Everglades into a desert in under a day. He has no friends in the political establishment from either party. The most powerful elected leaders in the region absolutely dread the thought of hearing his footsteps approaching their office.
It’s worth reminding everyone at this juncture that Bharara was the man who took down the most powerful Democrat in New York State, Sheldon Silver, and followed that up with a conviction of New York’s top Republican, Dean Skelos. Both of those men currently face the prospect of very possibly dying behind bars. He currently has investigations underway into the affairs of the Clinton Foundation’s offices in New York City, the mayor of the Big Apple and the Governor himself. (He has already indicted several members of the Governor’s inner circle.)
Yes, of course Trump can do this. But it seems a stupid and shortsighted thing to do as well as a possibly ominous exercise in power for its own sake. I’ll be willing to revise that last sentence if I come across some explanation that makes sense to me.