The Trump administration on Friday asked all remaining US attorneys appointed by Barack Obama to tender their resignations, including Preet Bharara, the top prosecutor in Manhattan.
Dana Boente, acting deputy attorney-general, phoned the 46 US attorneys appointed by the previous administration and asked them to step down.
The order from attorney-general Jeff Sessions came as a surprise to many in the Department of Justice. In November Mr Bharara said he had been asked to stay in his role.
US attorneys are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. It is customary for a new administration to put their own attorneys in place, but past administrations have handled the transition differently. The last sweeping call for resignations came during the Clinton administration under attorney-general Janet Reno.
Mr Boente, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, is also subject to the order. It also applies to Rod Rosenstein, the US attorney in Baltimore who has been nominated to serve as the deputy attorney-general under Mr Sessions. There are 93 US attorneys in the US; some resigned following the presidential election.
The attorney-general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition
“As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, a DoJ spokesperson. “The attorney-general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.
“Until the new US attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our US attorneys’ offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders.”
Mr Bharara, who built a reputation prosecuting insider trading on Wall Street and public corruption in New York State capital Albany, was expected to keep his job as US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
His office is involved in several major investigations, including a fundraising probe relating to the campaign of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. On Monday, a high-profile insider trading trial involving a Las Vegas gambler and entangling Phil Mickelson, the professional golfer, begins.
Mr Bharara’s office is also investigating whether 21st Century Fox failed to properly report financial settlements of sexual harassment claims against Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News. Sean Hannity, a Fox News commentator who is close to Mr Trump, argued on Thursday night that Mr Trump should purge “deep-state Obama holdovers embedded like barnacles in the federal bureaucracy”.
In November Mr Bharara was summoned to Trump Tower to meet Donald Trump, then president-elect, and was asked to stay in his position.
Following the meeting Mr Bharara told reporters: “We had a good meeting. I agreed to stay on. I have already spoken to Senator Sessions . . . He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing to work at the southern district.”
It is not clear whether Mr Trump will accept all the letters of resignation or postpone that decision allowing certain prosecutors to stay in place. Mr Bharara’s office did not have an immediate comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said on Friday: “At a time when attorney-general Sessions has recused himself from major investigations into the Trump campaign, the independence of federal prosecutors could not be more important.”
Ms Feinstein said she had been assured in a meeting with Mike Pence, the vice-president, and Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, in January that a transition of US attorneys would be “orderly”.
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