As this Washington Post story emphasizes, one of the spoils of the presidential election war is the chance to appoint/fire all of U.S. Attorneys prosecuting federal crimes in the United States. There are 93 U.S. Attorneys around the nation and our territories.
I'm sure we all recall the claims that, while president, Bush fired several U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. Karl Rove has agreed to testify about what role the Bush White House played in the firings.
How should President Obama proceed in appointing new top prosecutors?
When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism in the conservative legal community and among career lawyers at the Justice Department.
President George W. Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors but keeping in place Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, while she pursued terrorism cases and a politically sensitive investigation of Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.
Conservatives would have complained about Clinton no matter what he did. But there is some merit to slowly replacing the attorneys. In terms of practicality, there is merit to asking for resignations in stages versus a whole sale replacement.
Obama has not made clear how he will build his own corps of prosecutors, a group that shapes an administration's approach to law enforcement and is critical to its smooth operation. U.S. attorneys' offices handled more than 100,000 criminal cases and recovered $1.3 billion in forfeited cash and property in the past fiscal year, according to a prosecutors' trade group.
The White House is under pressure from several fronts, both to appoint new prosecutors favored by members of Congress and, in other cases, to keep some U.S. attorneys from the Bush administration.
Several Bush holdovers, who were told before the inauguration that they could stay "for the time being," are making it known that they want to remain, citing the high-profile investigations they are pursuing. About 40 of the Bush appointees left of their own accord before the election, but dozens have stayed on.
Well, that's 40 who are gone. But what about the remaining 53? Were those 40 political hacks like
Monica Goodling who knew they were poilitical hacks who would be a target for firing?
Senators Durbin and Landrieu are asking the White House to keep some Bush attorneys.
Obama administration officials have confirmed they will bless a proposal by Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a political independent, remain U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
And in New Orleans, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has won the endorsement of the state's Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, who praised him for picking up a heavy caseload after Hurricane Katrina.
Patrick Fitzgerald developed somewhat of a fan base on Daily Kos after he went tried Scooter Libby last year. It looks like Fitzgerald is safe. Just because an attorney was appointed by Bush doesn't mean that he or she won the job by being a political hack. The 40 attorneys who have already resigned, due to Obama's victory, have made that decision easy regaring replacement. I know Obama won't appoint cronies. He'll appoint qualified people be they Democrat, republican, or neither. He's demonstrated that via his cabinet appointments. Firing the remaining attorneys simultaneously may not be a good idea. He should employ a staged approach.
"The preferable approach we believe is to permit incumbent U.S. Attorneys to remain in place until the new U.S. Attorney has been nominated and confirmed," wrote Cook, a 22-year federal prosecutor in Tennessee.
All of us would want some type of notice before losing a job so we can have time to look for another. That notion should cut across partisan lines.