Dear U.S. Attorneys, “You’re Fired!” Sincerely, President Trump

On Friday, the Trump administration told 46 United States attorneys to resign their posts and fired one of the 46 who refused to resign. The 46 were Obama appointees who were held over for the first month of the Trump presidency.

Some have speculated that an on-air monologue on Sean Hannity’s television program led to President Trump’s action. One day before the resignations, Hannity called for a “purge” of “deep-state bureaucrats,” including the U.S. attorneys.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York (which includes Manhattan and Trump Tower), declined to take President Trump’s phone call on Thursday and tweeted on Saturday that he had been fired:

This news begs some important questions about U.S. attorneys. For instance, how do they shape law and the political order?

What is a United States attorney?

A United States attorney is a federal prosecutor and serves as the chief federal law enforcement officer in one of 93 different geographic districts in the United States.

So what is their job?

The job of all federal prosecutors is similar. They investigate those suspected of violating federal laws, then bring charges and present the case against the accused in court.

The U.S. attorney for a district performs a largely administrative role. They oversee their subordinates (assistant U.S. attorneys), guide the office’s prosecutorial approach, and communicate with the public.

How is this related to politics?

All U.S. (district) attorneys are political appointees.

A U.S. attorney is appointed by the president. Once he or she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he or she remains U.S. attorney indefinitely until a replacement is appointed and confirmed or they resign their position. The 46 that Trump asked to resign Friday were appointed by former president Obama.

But the terminology can be confusing. The United States (district) attorney’s appointment is very different than that of a deputy or assistant U.S. attorney, who is a career prosecutor and not a political appointee.

Remember, the prosecutorial approach that U.S. attorneys pursue can become political. Prosecutors exercise a lot of prosecutorial discretion in how they pursue cases.

For example, a certain president’s administration might favor targeting Wall Street with an aggressive strategy to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. A different administration might have different priorities, like drug crime or terrorism.

Why were the U.S. attorneys asked to resign?

The best answer is because President Trump and his administration wanted them gone. It is part of the executive powers that all presidents have. Former president Clinton also asked 93 U.S. attorneys to resign in 1993, so the move is not without precedent. But the Trump administration has not publicly explained their reasoning yet.

Questions to discuss

  • Do you think Hannity’s monologue is the reason?
  • If so, should a TV personality have that kind of influence over the government?
  • How could this action reshape U.S. law and the political order?




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4 Responses to Dear U.S. Attorneys, “You’re Fired!” Sincerely, President Trump

  1. edander4 says:

    First and foremost, I would like to compliment you on the formatting of this post. It was very aesthetically pleasing and easy to read and understand, so thank you for that. After reading this post and hearing all that has been happening with President Trump and the court system, I question his support of the judicial system. I read a CNN article yesterday after the travel ban was stopped nationwide. They quoted President Trump referring to the block as “unprecedented judicial overreach,” and he threatened to take the case to the Supreme Court.
    I disagree with the statement that blocking the ban is judicial overreach. The judicial branch of federal government in the United States was designed to act as a check for the other two branches and review the Constitutionality of new laws. I believe that Trump referring to the block as “overreach” is simply not correct.
    Trump removing so many attorneys could be viewed as him attempting to rid himself of opposition. However, I am not sure that this is the case. It seems as if President Trump did not act out of precedent in this situation. We will find out more if his administration releases a reason as to why they got rid of these attorneys.

  2. mspivey97 says:

    Great post! While I’m not sure Hannity’s specific monologue led to the mass firings, I do think conservative pundits bear quite a bit of responsibility for advancing the “deep state” theory we’ve seen thrown around quite a bit these last few weeks. The idea that Obama appointees are trying to undermine Trump from the inside probably caught the eyes and ears of the President, who is known to watch a ton of cable news. So it’s quite possible that commentators Trump is known to like, such as Hannity, had an indirect role. All presidents care about how they are viewed by the media, and it is important for an administration to get a sense of how the country is feeling and reacting to its policies. But hours of cable news every day, which, with Trump, is apparently not an exaggeration, seems very toxic. I love “the game” of politics, and still can’t stand cable news for more than about an hour. It’s not really a good guide for understanding the country or the ideas. And while it’s understandable that Trump wants U.S. Attorneys who represent his views, it would seem to me a much better idea to phase out current employees in waves, so all of the accumulated knowledge these lawyers have built up isn’t lost all at once.

    Here’s some good news about one of the former U.S. Attorneys I read just before I saw your post!
    Not a bad gig! I’m pretty sure any law school in the country would kill to have Mr. Bharara as well.

  3. amsturdam says:

    Hello, I loved this post because you were able to make everything so easy to read. The format made it easy to understand and why it was such an important decision made by the Trump administration. I do not believe that the monologue was the reason for this decision though. I think most commentators don’t actually have much leverage they just simply state their opinions that line up with the party’s beliefs. Because of this it may appear like they know stuff that is going on behind the scenes but they are essentially just paying attention to whats going on. I do not think that a personality should have this much leverage as they are not in any aspect elected by the people. At least when congressmen or senators make decisions they were popularly elected, personalities are simply hired by their network. For them to have any power in politics would be undemocratic in my opinion. This could impact law as Trump needs as much help legally as possible. With his travel ban being shutdown for a second time he is looking for a way to get some legal assistance and his administration may view this as a way to do just that.

  4. zoneofsubduction says:

    Long before there was Trump or Obama, there was this article in 2007 about the firing of US Attorneys. Senior Executive Service appointees in the Federal Service are also subject to termination at the will of an Administration.

    Not all can or should be ascribed to political intrigue or sinister machinations.

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