Two days after the Trump administration asked dozens of U.S. attorneys to submit resignation letters, a top House Democrat on Sunday openly questioned whether the president was trying to suppress investigations into his own businesses.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said politics may have led to the firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, a high-profile New York prosecutor.
Last week a number of watchdog groups asked Mr. Bharara to investigate whether Mr. Trump received any payments from foreign governments through any of his business interests — payments that seemingly would violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
Mr. Cummings suggested there may be a connection between those requests and the ouster of Mr. Bharara.
“And certainly, there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump is — President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future,” he told ABC’s “This Week” before being asked directly whether he believed there was a link.
“There very well may be,” he said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the U.S. attorneys to resign on Friday in order to make room for new prosecutors nominated by Mr. Trump.
“As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Friday in a statement. “The attorney general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”
Justice officials made clear that neither Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, nor Rod Rosenstein, who was nominated to serve as deputy attorney general, were being asked to step down.
Such turnover is typical at the start of a new presidential administration, with prosecutors who head the 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country often leaving at the outset of a new administration. Many of those offices are already being overseen by acting or interim prosecutors in the wake of the previous departures of U.S. attorneys.
It’s the firing of Mr. Bharara that has generated the most controversy.
Mr. Bharara met with Mr. Trump following November’s election, and previously had said he had been asked by the president to stay on in his position.
On Saturday Mr. Bharara wrote on Twitter that he had refused to submit his resignation letter and was fired instead.
“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life,” Mr. Bharara wrote.
Presidents have dealt differently with prosecutors who remain in their positions after the start of new administrations.
“It has a really checkered history,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
At the start of President Bill Clinton’s term, Attorney General Janet Reno asked for the resignation of all 93 U.S. attorneys. George W. Bush’s administration faced controversy over the 2006 removal of nine U.S. attorneys, with questions raised over whether the resignations were intended to influence certain prosecutions.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama kept on some prosecutors appointed by President George W. Bush until replacements had been nominated and confirmed.
“Obama was a little more measured and seemed to want to have a smoother transition; some stayed on quite a while,” Mr. Tobias said.
Some Republican lawmakers are defending the president’s actions.
“Elections have consequences, and so for people to complain about it, they’re ignoring the history of new presidencies,” Arizona Sen. John McCain told CNN on Sunday. “I think the president had every right to ask for their resignations.”
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