No hint from Sessions of impending US attorney firings, source says

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Story highlights

  • Sessions held a conference call with US attorneys across the country on Wednesday
  • Two days later, he fired all of them

Washington (CNN)Two days before he dismissed them, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave no indication in a conference call with US attorneys across the country that some of their jobs were in peril, one of the dismissed US attorneys told CNN on Monday.

Sessions held the call last Wednesday, said the dismissed US attorney, who agreed to speak with CNN on the condition of anonymity.
Instead, Sessions discussed the office's new violent crime task force and said he looked forward to engaging with everyone.
The call -- which was open to all 93 attorneys, not only the ones who were dismissed -- was described to CNN as a very positive discussion with no hint of what was to come. At one point, President Donald Trump's nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, asked if anyone had anything else to offer and an exchange took place about whether Native American areas would be included in the new violent crime initiatives.
One of the US attorneys on the call offered to help Sessions and said he was willing to brief him on these specific issues, and Sessions said that he would look forward to having his staff set that up. Two days later, however, Sessions fired the attorney and more than 40 others.
The Justice Department declined CNN's request for comment on the matter.
The US attorney who spoke to CNN said that he first received notice of his firing through a call from a reporter and then a mass email sent from the Justice Department's public affairs office.
Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente then later called him and said that he needed to be out that same day. The fired US attorney viewed Boente as a friend, and Boente was apologetic for having to do it this way.
On Friday, Sessions formally asked for the resignations of 46 US attorneys, igniting anger from officials who felt they were given no warning about their dismissals, according to a law enforcement source.
Boente was in the beginning stages of calling each US attorney individually to tell them they had to resign when the DOJ issued a statement, saying the attorneys were asked to step down in order "in order to ensure a uniform transition."
The Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which oversees all 93 US attorneys throughout the country, was also not made aware of the plans to fire the 46 attorneys before Friday, another source familiar with the firings said. The last-minute notice left those within DOJ scrambling.
It is common for administrations to ask holdovers to step down, but what is less common is the abruptness of Friday's announcement. Two sources familiar with the Justice Department told CNN that attorneys were unsure for some time whether such an action would happen and had been looking for some type of announcement -- but received radio silence until last Friday.
One of the dismissed attorneys -- Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York -- tweeted Saturday that he was fired after he refused to step down.
The high-profile US attorney had been told after a meeting with Trump last November that he could keep his job, sources told CNN.
According to a source, Trump tried, through his assistant, to call Bharara last Thursday, but Bharara deflected the call because of ethical protocols limiting contact between the White House and Justice Department officials.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained Monday that the President was merely calling "Bharara to thank him for his service."
Yet Spicer declined to say whether Trump had, in fact, asked Bharara to stay on when the two met at Trump Tower, saying that it wasn't "relevant."
Not all of the 46 US attorneys will be headed out right away, however.
Two of the 46 -- Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York and Deirdre M. Daly in Connecticut -- will be staying on longer in order to earn their pensions based on certain number of years of federal service, a Justice Department official said.
The President also declined to accept the resignations of two other US attorneys: acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein, who has been nominated to replace him.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the attendance on the Sessions call.