The Justice Department on Tuesday asked US attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump to submit their resignations, a turnover that spares two top prosecutors in Delaware and Connecticut overseeing two sensitive Trump-era investigations.
The resignations are effective February 28, US attorneys were told on a conference call with acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson, according to two Justice officials familiar with the matter. A number of acting US attorneys who aren’t Senate confirmed or who were appointed by the courts are expected to remain in their posts until a Biden appointee is approved by the Senate, prosecutors were told Tuesday.
Delaware US Attorney David Weiss has been asked to remain in office, where he is overseeing the tax probe of Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son. John Durham, appointed as special counsel by former Attorney General William Barr to reinvestigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, will also continue his work, but he is expected to resign as US attorney in Connecticut, a Justice official said.
The resignation request applies to 56 Senate-confirmed US attorneys appointed by Trump.
The changeover of US attorneys is routine but is often fraught with political overtones. In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked 46 Obama-appointed US attorneys to submit their resignations. A handful were allowed to stay on for a brief period, but most had to leave immediately.
Biden's First 100 Days
Illinois Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, both Democrats, expressed their disappointment on Tuesday that Biden did not consult with them about terminating US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch.
“While the President has the right to remove U.S. Attorneys, there is precedent for U.S. Attorneys in the Northern District of Illinois to remain in office to conclude sensitive investigations. We believe Mr. Lausch should be permitted to continue in his position until his successor is confirmed by the Senate, and we urge the Biden Administration to allow him to do so,” they wrote in a joint statement.
Distrust of Trump-era appointees led the Biden administration to appoint a career Justice Department official as acting attorney general while it waits for the US Senate to confirm Merrick Garland, the President’s nominee to lead the department.
Garland’s confirmation hearing was expected to begin on February 8, but it has been delayed by former Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham who, until this week when Democrats took formal control of the Senate, opposed moving quickly on Garland’s hearing.
Graham said he needs time to question Garland on current investigations and wrote a letter on Tuesday to Wilkinson urging him “not to interfere in or call off” the investigations.
Of the 94 US attorneys serving in districts across the country, 25 are serving in acting positions after some Trump appointees resigned ahead of the Biden inauguration.
Among those the Biden administration may keep for a while, according to people briefed on the matter, are Michael Sherwin, acting US attorney in Washington, DC, who is overseeing the sprawling probe of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Sherwin is a career prosecutor from Miami, but was installed in DC by former Attorney General William Barr, and among the options Biden administration officials have discussed is having him continue to lead the insurrection probe, perhaps from Justice headquarters, while making room for Biden’s own appointee in the DC office.
Less certain is how long acting US attorneys in New York City will remain in their posts: Seth DuCharme in Brooklyn and Audrey Strauss in Manhattan.
Some high-profile US attorneys who had not resigned ahead of Biden’s inauguration included US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers, Utah US Attorney John Huber and Pittsburgh US Attorney Scott Brady.
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown had made clear to a local news outlet that DeVillers is going to be replaced and has put out a call for resumes, according to Cleveland.com. DeVillers is currently overseeing two high-profile corruption investigations involving a former Republican lawmaker and Cincinnati council members that includes a Democrat.
Huber was first appointed by former President Barack Obama and then reappointed by Trump. During his second time as the US attorney, Huber was tasked by Sessions to reexamine a previous Justice Department investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s business dealings and the Clinton Foundation. Huber ended his probe, concluding there wasn’t reason to reopen the investigation, a decision that irritated Barr, according to people briefed on the matter.
Barr tasked Brady with reviewing claims related to Ukraine and the Biden family made by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The move was initially seen by Justice officials as a way to keep dubious allegations from Giuliani – which Barr publicly cast doubt on – away from other Justice Department matters.
But Brady embraced the task, former Justice Department officials say, and pushed to take investigative steps that led to internal fights with the FBI and others. The status of Brady’s efforts on Ukraine remains unclear.
This story and its headline have been updated with more reporting.