WASHINGTON ― President-elect Donald Trump will allow U.S. attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama to remain in their roles for the time being, a Justice Department official said Tuesday evening.
The news about the future of the nation’s top federal prosecutors came less than 72 hours before Trump’s swearing in at noon on Friday. Before the announcement, officials in several U.S. attorneys’ offices told The Huffington Post they had received no guidance from the incoming administration on whether they were expected to resign when Trump became president. That changed on Tuesday.
“Currently serving U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals were informed today that they are able to stay in place after January 20th while the process for identifying and confirming successors is further determined,” Wyn Hornbuckle, a DOJ spokesman, said in a statement. The Executive Office for United States Attorneys informed the officials of the decision, he said.
The incoming Trump administration also asked Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to serve as acting Attorney General, effective noon on Friday, until Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is confirmed as AG, Hornbuckle said. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will vacate the position Friday.
U.S. attorneys are the top federal prosecutors in districts across the United States, and are charged with supervising the enforcement of federal law and defending the U.S. government in court. They wield enormous power and discretion. Out of 94 federal districts across the country, 53 U.S. attorneys currently in place were presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed, according to the latest DOJ data. The remaining positions are filled by interim or acting U.S. attorneys.
R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the Trump transition team, rejected the premise that the announcement about the fate of the nation’s top federal prosecutors had come late. (Eight years ago, the Obama transition team beat the Trump team, but not by much. Obama’s team asked Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys to stick around “for the time being” on Jan. 14, 2009, while the Trump team’s request came on Jan. 17.)
“They’ve been informed,” Hammond said. “These are all professionals, they know what to do.” Hammond indicated the Trump administration, following tradition, would consult with senators from each state in choosing new U.S. attorneys. That consultation is important, as senators are able to use the “blue slip” process to recommend or block U.S. attorney nominations in their home states.
Hammond said there’s no established deadline for replacing the current U.S. attorneys, and that the new nominations would come on a “rolling” basis “over a period of time.” In previous administrations, the first U.S. attorney nominations have typically come in the summer.
For now, the Trump team is focused on getting Sessions confirmed as attorney general. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up his nomination on Jan. 24, but it can be delayed a week by any senator, according to Politico. That means his nomination may not come to the floor of the Senate until early February. Rod Rosenstein, the current U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, is reportedly expected to be nominated as deputy attorney general, the No. 2 position at Justice.