President Donald Trump abruptly asked 46 federal prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration to step down. To be sure, it’s common practice for an incoming president — especially from a different political party than his predecessor — to replace the U.S. attorneys in each district. But, as with many aspects of the Trump presidency, it was not necessarily the event that differed from past protocol as much as the method and manner of execution.
The administration issues its order on Friday, with some prosecutors instructed to resign by the end of the day. This forced some U.S. attorneys to hastily turn over sophisticated, high-profile cases to their underlings within a matter of hours. The Obama administration had allowed for a transition phase, even if only a brief one in some cases, in displacing Bush appointees back in 2009. At least one prominent federal prosecutor — Preet Bahrara, the head of the federal district that covers Manhattan — refused to quit and was ultimately fired on Saturday.
The resignations did not directly affect the federal prosecutor’s office here in Boston because the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, had already resigned. The interim U.S. attorney is a longtime prosecutor, William Weinreb, who gained local renown as one of the lead prosecutors in the Tsarnaev trial two years ago. In selecting Ortiz’s replacement, it is anticipated that Trump will rely on the advice of two well-regarded Republican former U.S. attorneys: Michael Sullivan, who served under President George W. Bush, and Frank McNamara, a Reagan appointee.
There is no shortage of lawyers with conservative ties who might be viable candidates for the post. The leading contenders include Brian Kelly, a longtime assistant federal prosecutor, the former head of the public corruption unit, and currently a lawyer at a private law firm, according to The Boston Globe. Kelly was one of the prosecutors on the team that secured convictions against Whitey Bulger. Another possibility is Michael Loucks, who is also in private practice but served as first assistant U.S. attorney to Sullivan during George W. Bush’s presidency.
The appointment of a new U.S. attorney in Massachusetts will affect the course of the office’s future work, as that person will likely heed the guidance of “main justice” in Washington, D.C., and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It is unclear whether the transition will have an impact on any pending federal cases, such as the extortion case pending against two of Mayor Marty Walsh’s aides. While there is always a chance that a new U.S. attorney will abandon existing investigations and cases, it seems doubtful that a Trump appointee would relinquish the case, which (a) is quite far down the litigation road and (b) casts aspersions on a liberal, Democratic mayor who has been an outspoken opponent of the president.