The boneless, headless chicken ranch on the Hill is in a frenzy once again. Early last week, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department asked forty-six U.S. Attorneys to step down and make room for future presidential appointees. Shock and dismay from those asked to pack and a new tidbit for this administration’s naysayers are making swift rounds with the media. Headlines nearly screamed chaos and the term pandemonium was bandied about.
“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” All this drama over asking the old administration’s appointees to leave. The Trump people need your desk.
The phasing out of employees who serve at the pleasure of the president is usually a gradual process. However, It has become common practice for positions to remain occupied until new appointments are made. But it isn’t mandatory. If President Trump desires an empty Justice Department, that is his right and he asked for the resignation of forty-six employees. Thank you for your service, now please leave.Former US Attorney Peet Bharara
But what surfaced at week’s end was downright bewildering to the new administration. A new darling standing in defiance in front of the encroaching Trump tank was born: Peet Bharara. He refused to leave.
What is baffling and causing open-mouthed, slack-jawed responses from the Beltway is simple: US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the of the president. US Attorney Bharara likes his job and decided to stay.
Reuters provided this commentary:
He told reporters in November that Trump had asked him to stay in his post, and he refused to resign when asked to do so by the Justice Department on Friday. He said he was fired on Saturday afternoon.
“Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live,” Bharara said in a press statement.
The Justice Department confirmed that Bharara was no longer serving in the position and declined further comment.
The Justice Department was speechless.
The Democrats were not.
“President Trump’s abrupt and unexplained decision to summarily remove over 40 U.S. attorneys has once again caused chaos in the federal government,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, weighed in on the discussion.
There’s that word again: chaos.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the firings showed “the independence of the Justice Department is at risk under this administration” and that lawmakers had to carefully evaluate Trump’s replacements.
Yahoo News cobbled together reports from Reuters and AP and, well, it was bound to come up. Wiretapping.
Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D) of the House Judiciary Committee speculated that Bharara’s office “could be reviewing a range of potential improper activity emanating from Trump Tower and the Trump campaign, as well as entities with financial ties to the president or the Trump organization.”
US Attorney Bharara is no shrinking violet—and known to be tough on corruption and not afraid to take on the high-profile cases. In his seven years as U.S. attorney for New York’s southern district, he was responsible for investigating a dozen state lawmakers and bringing charges on inside traders. Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was caught in his net as well as the international arms dealer, Viktor Bout. His newly vacated office was also investigating the settlements on the sexual harassment allegations against Fox News by former hosts Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson.
The Department of Justice may be a little light in US attorneys in the weeks to come, but let’s face facts; just because leadership is changing doesn’t mean justice comes to a screeching halt. The career attorneys that do the heavy lifting are still in the trenches, plugging away at fighting crime on behalf of America, and waiting patiently for their new leader.