fb-pixel Skip to main content

WASHINGTON — Two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered 46 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.

Some lawmakers also are questioning whether the mass firings could jeopardize ongoing federal investigations.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, on Sunday strongly criticized President Trump’s decision to fire Manhattan federal prosecutor Preet Bharara after he refused to resign.

Advertisement



Warren took to Twitter to address Trump on the matter directly, saying ‘‘you’re not replacing real prosecutors with cronies without a massive fight.’’

‘‘You can’t shut down ongoing investigations by career prosecutors,’’ Warren said.

In a series of tweets Sunday, Warren called Bharara ‘‘a fearless prosecutor who stands up to both parties and Wall Street,’’ adding ‘‘I guess that’s why Trump fired him.’’

Warren said Trump talked about targeting corruption but instead ‘‘wants a bunch of tame prosecutors who won’t investigate him.’’

Other Democrats also condemned the demand for resignations Sunday.

Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, suggested Trump might have fired Bharara to thwart a potential corruption investigation, and said the move could add to a lack of trust of the administration.

Bharara had revealed his firing Saturday, a day after Sessions asked for the resignations of the remaining US attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration.

Even if the quick exits don’t have a major impact on ongoing prosecutions, they will give US attorneys little time to prepare deputies who will take over until successors are named, observers say.

Advertisement



The request for resignations from the Obama administration prosecutors wasn’t shocking in itself. 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.

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

‘‘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.

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

Some of those ousted were longtime prosecutors who had spent their careers coming up through the ranks of the Justice Department. John W. Vaudreuil, US attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, became an assistant attorney in that office in 1980.

Advertisement



Another, Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York, joined the Justice Department in the 1990s.

‘‘All of these US attorneys know they serve at the pleasure of the president. No one complains about that,’’ said John Walsh, an Obama appointee as federal attorney in Colorado who resigned in July. ‘‘But it was handled in a way that was disrespectful to the US attorneys because they were almost treated as though they had done something wrong, when in fact they had not.’’

Peter Neronha, who had served since 2009 as US attorney for Rhode Island, said even before Friday he had been preparing for his eventual departure and had written a resignation statement to be released upon his exit.

He said he knew his time was limited but had been eager to stay on to see through a major public corruption prosecution and to speak with students about the perils of opioid addiction.

It’s not clear why the Justice Department asked the prosecutors to exit so quickly. Sessions gave no warning during the Wednesday conference call in which he articulated his agenda for fighting violent crime.

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

Trump did apparently make an attempt to speak with Bharara directly in advance of the Friday demand for resignations. The president told a secretary he wanted to thank Bharara but the two men never spoke, according to a person told about the conversation but who requested anonymity.

Advertisement



The Justice Department said Friday it would not accept the resignations of Dana Boente, now the acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the Maryland prosecutor who has been nominated for deputy attorney general.