WASHINGTON, Two days before barrister General Jeff Sessions ordered dozens 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 apparently abrupt about-face Friday left the affected U.S. attorneys scrambling to brief the people left behind and say goodbye to colleagues. It also could have an influence on morale for the career prosecutors who now must pick up the slack, according to some close to the process. The quick way out aren't expected to have a major impact on ongoing prosecutions, but they gave U.S. attorneys little time to prepare deputies who will take over until successors are named.
The request for dismissal from the 46 prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration wasn't shocking. It's fairly normal for the 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their posts once a new president is in office, and many had already left or were making plans for their going. Sessions himself was asked to resign as a U.S. attorney in a similar purge by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.
But the sudden nature of the dismissals done with little unbind and not always with the customary thanks for years of service stunned and angered some of those left back in offices around the country.
Former prosecutors, friends, and colleagues instantly started reaching out to each other on a growing email range to express condolences and support, commiserating about how unjust they felt the situation was. One U.S. attorney was out of state on Friday and was forced to say goodbye to his office by a blast email, said Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney from North Dakota who was included in the email 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, the U.S. barrister for the Western District of Wisconsin, became an assistant U.S. barrister in that office in 1980. Another, Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York, joined the Justice Department in the 1990s.
Trump himself did obviously make an attempt to speak with Bharara in advance of the Friday demand for resignations. The president reached out through an assistant on his staff to Bharara a day earlier but the two men never spoke, according to a person told about the talk but who requested anonymity. The White House on Sunday said the president achieved out to thank Bharara for his service and to wish him good luck.
The Justice Department on Friday did say it would not accept the living of Dana Boente, now the acting assistant director attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the Maryland prosecutor who's been nominated for the deputy role.
On Sunday, some Democrats criticized the demand for dismissal in highly partisan comments. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, suggested Trump might have fired Bharara to thwart a potential corruption inquest, and believed the move added to a lack of trust of the administration.