Abrupt dismissals spark turmoil among federal prosecutors

Abrupt dismissals spark turmoil among federal prosecutors

Two days 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 US 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, according to some close to the process.

The quick exits aren't expected to have a major impact on ongoing prosecutions, but they gave US attorneys little time to prepare deputies who will take over until successors are named.

"It's very, very gut-level reaction," said Steven Schleicher, a former prosecutor who left Minnesota US Attorney Andrew Luger's office in January and was still in contact with people there.

The request for resignations from the 46 prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration wasn't shocking. It's fairly customary for the 93 US 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 US 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.

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

Trump himself 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 Bharara a day earlier but the two men never spoke, according to a person told about the conversation but who requested anonymity.

The White House yesterday said the president reached out to thank Bharara for his service and to wish him good luck. Yesterday, some Democrats condemned the demand for resignations in highly partisan comments. Maryland Rep Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, suggested Trump might have fired Bharara to thwart a potential corruption investigation, and believed the move added to a lack of trust of the administration.

Former prosecutors, friends and colleagues immediately started reaching out to each other on a growing email chain to express condolences and support, commiserating about how unfair they felt the situation was.

One US attorney was out of state on Friday and was forced to say goodbye to his office by a blast email, said Tim Purdon, a former US attorney from North Dakota who was included on the email chain.

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

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