The Friday Afternoon Massacre: Who Is Overseeing the Trump Investigation?

Update: After refusing to resign, Preet has now officially been fired. It remains to be seen whether there’s some underlying legal reason to force Trump to do this, or whether it’s press grand-standing.

Dana Boente, the US Attorney for Eastern District of VA and Acting Deputy Attorney General since Trump fired Sally Yates, just called the other US Attorneys and told them to submit their resignations effective immediately.

The press seems most interested in whether this order covers media hound Preet Bharara, US Attorney for Southern District of NY. Preet is leading an investigation into NY political scandals affecting key Democrats, and Trump had told him he would be kept on (Preet’s political godfather is Chuck Schumer, which may have had something to do with that).

But I’m far more interested in whether Boente himself is resigning to himself.

In addition to serving as Acting DAG, since Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigation into Trump last week, Boente has been in charge of that investigation. So if Boente resigned to himself this afternoon, it would mean no one was in charge of the investigation. Plus, Boente also oversees several other interesting investigations, notably the long-standing investigation of Wikileaks.

Mind you, Rod Rosenstein, at least until this afternoon US Attorney for MD, is all teed up to be confirmed as DAG. Except Richard Blumenthal has said he would hold up that investigation until a special counsel was appointed to investigate Trump. With no DAG and no one in charge of the Trump investigation (the USAs in WDPA, DC, and NDCA, who also have a piece of the investigation presumably also just resigned), Blumenthal might be pressured to relent on that front.

Update: NBC finally got some clarity on Boente — he (and Rosenstein) will stay on. Which I guess means Preet is out.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

23 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    LOL I was just scratching something up on this mass termination from another angle.

    Guess which U.S. Attorney was in charge of the January 2015 Russian spies case?

    Ding-ding-ding … Preet Bharara!

    Jeepers, I wonder what else SDNY knows about Russian operatives in the U.S. since not all “others known and unknown” who supported the three spies were arrested and prosecuted?

    • PeasantParty says:

      Jesus, Joseph, Jezebel!!!!   That is like learning Comey was protector of the Clintons way back when.   So, just like all other times the investigation will be mostly about dust bunnies under the desk.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “First thing we do, let’s kill [or fire] all the lawyers.”  Henry VI, Part 2, iv, 2.

    If Mr. Trump and his Rasputin wanted a list of elements necessary to pull off their revolution, there’s plenty of advice to go round.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The timing is curious, the firing is not. One would have thought they would have done this weeks ago.  Doing it now invites Trumpologists to wonder why. It will generate more of Mr. Trump’s defining characteristic – chaos – for months, and curtail federal litigation and enforcement. All good things for a guy who has no idea of how to govern, aided by an adviser and his patrons who don’t want government to run at all.

  4. Evangelista says:

    The sane response to the Boente attorney’s “call” would seem to be to ignore it.

    Worst that could happen then would be creation of a “crisis” [TPT, or ‘Tea Pot Tempest’].

    What would the worst be with all US Attorneys rushing to comply? Setting of a precedent for changes of non-political, supposedly non-partisan appointment personnel with changes of administration, making non-political appointments become political ones? Setting precedent for the same with judicial appointments, making “lifetime appointment” mean “life of the administration”? Instigation of political roller-coaster effect?

    Whichever, it should be interesting, and more good fun.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Henry Giroux on the Donald [emphasis added]:

    With the rise of Donald Trump to the office of president of the United States, politics has descended, like never before, to a theater of the absurd. Unbridled anti-intellectualism, deception and“vindictive chaos” offer the rhetorical tools for repeating elements of a morally reprehensible past in the guise of “making America great again.” Advancing an aggressively alarmist agenda bolstered by “alternative facts,” the Trump administration has unleashed a type of anti-politics that unburdens people of any responsibility to challenge, let alone collectively transform, the fundamental precepts of a society torn asunder by blatant misogyny, massive inequality, open bigotry and violence against immigrants, Muslims and poor minorities of color.,,,

    When evidence, science and reason are purged of their legitimacy, politics capitulates to the venomous ideals, policies and practices one associates with a totalitarian past. Despite his populist posturing, Trump’s contempt of democratic processes is matched by his commitment to the market and economic policies that favor the financial elite.

  6. P J Evans says:

    From the Great Orange Satan:

    Trump called two US attys — Boente & Rosenstein — to tell them he’s not accepting their resignations, per Justice. https://t.co/PZcSt7Fmdbpic.twitter.com/59G65mHSeA

    — Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) March 11, 2017

     

    Trump personally called the 2 people who are/will be in charge of overseeing any Russia influence investigations to keep them in their jobs.

    — Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) March 11, 2017

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This sudden dismissal of the USA’s makes clear another defining characteristic of our Narcissist-in-Chief.  The sting.  It is a combination of two of his other defining characteristics – relentless lying, about the large and the small, and an addiction to chaos.

    Trump’s White House counsel, Don McGahn, promised DiFi that the transition from Obama’s to Trump’s USAs would be “orderly”, in an effort to maintain “continuity”.  A common goal, a common expectation. We can now see, and DiFi should have anticipated, that these were lies. Not mistakes, miscommunications or changes of plan, but a casual, common, routine strategy.

    Trump and Bannon do not want “order”.  They want chaos.  They want to unsettle, to deter thought, to encourage reliance, to enable acceptance of horrendous changes that would otherwise be stoutly resisted.  This last item is like putting a lobster in a pot of warm water, then setting it to boil.  The slow transition elicits nary a peep from the soon-to-be dinner.

    The Trumpistas do not want “continuity”.  They brag about wanting a rightwing revolution, but without the mess and resistance that follows actually declaring one.  They want a return to America-the-Great ™, to a perfect-for-wealthy-white men, pre-income tax 1890s, when there were few effective challenges to their rule from women, unions, hoi poloi, people of color, and non-christians.  (Never mind that the real 1890s were aboil with conflict: financialization, industrialization, union and free speech battles, Indian decimation, massive immigration, strike breaking, suffragettes, Jim Crow and resistance to it.)

    Combining Trump’s love of chaos with his lies gives us the sting, the set-up that leads to the brutal surprise, that stab in the back.  Create an expectation, elicit reliance, destroy the gullible.

    It’s a Hollywood writer’s cliche, a staple of stories of ambition, of war, of politics and sexual intrigue. of crime dramas and scifi fantasy.  They would all be boring without it – and without the payback it demands.  Trump would have used it in his deals, with his partners, against his contractors.  Torturers use it to break down a subject’s personality.

    For government, for all forms of effective cooperation, the sting has to be carefully sheathed.  It destroys trust and credibility as easily as adultery destroys a marriage.  It makes compromise and cooperation impossible.  In Trumpistan, that’s the idea.

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Boente has no cred anymore.   No US Attorney will resign.  In fact the call for resignation will make them more suspicious, more resolute.

    The emperor has no clothes.

     

  9. scribe says:

    Please let’s keep a couple things in mind, people.
    1. The US Attorneys serve “at the pleasure of the President.” It’s in the law. We went through this a decade ago when Rove was having Kyle Sampson (remember that Pillsbury Doughboy?) and Monica Goodling (the maker of great desserts, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monica_Goodling) plot whom among the US Attorneys to fire.

    2. Remember, too, back in 2009 there was a similar changeover from Bush appointees to Obama’s? And Mary Beth Buchanan, US Attorney for the WD Pa (Pittsburgh) wanted to stay on and be of assistance for the Obama administration but was, unceremoniously, shown the door. Granted, she wasn’t moved out until 11/09. But, still, Obama moved people out, too. He just didn’t do it all in one swoop.

    3. Please also keep in mind that the US Attorney’s job is one of the largest political patronage plums still out there. It ordinarily goes to someone who is a Party Regular and has raised a lot of money for the party. Lawyering skill or accomplishment not necessarily required. Ask Chris Christie: when he was nominated to be the US Attorney in NJ, it was greeted with smirks, giggles and derision. But he’d raised a boatload of money for the Bush campaign and, in the end analysis, that’s what counted.

    4. It’s all kinds of fun to get all agitated about this or that outrage du jour, but the fact of the matter is the ship sailed on “political” replacements of US Attorneys, even those that might have edged up to or even over the line of impropriety or even obstruction of justice. If prosecuting such were possible (in the face of the statutory command that the US Attorney serves at the pleasure of the President), Obama’s failure to address the Bush scandal (which was well within the general 5-year criminal statute of limitations for a couple years after Obama took office set a precedent that it is not to be prosecuted. A bad precedent, to be sure, but a precedent nonetheless.

    • Charles says:

      Let’s remember some more facts and history:

      1. Previous USAs were not frogmarched out. USAs were usually given a transition period.

      2. There are no replacements for these USAs. This will cause chaos that will hurt the American people.

      3.  In previous mass replacements there was political backlash. Republicans screamed coverup and started all kinds of insane conspiracy theories… for example, when Bill Clinton removed Jay Stephens.Comments like “even those that might have edged up to or even over the line of impropriety or even obstruction of justice” when presented with zero real evidence sound a lot like that.

      4.  Trump promised Preet Bharara that he would be asked to stay on. A reversal on this point raises a concern.

      5. Bharara refused to resign–itself almost unheard of–clearly suggesting he believes that Trump is abusing the process to avoid danger of prosecution. Jeffrey Toobin, who tends to be pretty cautious, thinks raised just this point.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Commentators here are well-versed on the political nature of the USAs, that each president tends to replace them, often en masse.  Earlier administrations usually had plans and the political machinery in place to name and gain consent on their successors.  That was not what the Bush/Cheney USA debacle was about; Cheney, in fact, precisely managed the process of their replacement.

    Assuming that Mr. Trump has a forte, neither process, policy, nor personnel selection are among them.

  11. SpaceLifeForm says:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/new-york-federal-prosecutor-preet-bharara-has-not-submitted-resignation/2017/03/11/39163292-067a-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html
    Preet Bharara, one of the most high-profile federal prosecutors in the country, was fired Saturday after refusing to submit a letter of resignation as part of an ouster of the remaining U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration, according to people familiar with the matter.
    “I did not resign,” Bharara said on Twitter. “Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”

     

  12. emptywheel says:

    As I noted in an update–and SpaceLifeForm in a comment–Preet has gotten himself fired.

    That is only interesting if there was some investigation for which firing Preet might amount to obstructionism. Preet knows how to use the press, so I assume we’ll soon learn more.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Indeed.  With Preet’s ouster inevitable, regardless of any earlier promises that he could stay, Preet’s refusal to resign is probably an intentional statement.  It’s unlikely that he’s protesting a broken promise; that would make him look weak or naive.  He’s neither.  Delays and non-prosecution of Trump favorites are likely suspects, nicely hidden in all the kerfluffle, a variation on the ABC Murders. Despite the laudatory comments online about how “tough” Preet was with Wall Street, he was really its good friend. Which would make any intentional interference noteworthy.

  14. Rayne says:

    This is some unprofessional bullshit.

    Tweet - James Gleick, 11-MAR-2017

    You know what occurred to me when I read this “burrowed” bit? Sessions isn’t just cleaning house because the USAs “serve at the pleasure of the President.” He’s eliminating what he believes are pests.

    Which leads me to wonder the race/ethnicity/gender makeup of the 46 U.S. Attorneys he’s removing from office. This is a reasonable concern given this Attorney General was too racist to be a federal judge and this White House is fine with legislation which discriminates based on genetics.

    The President may offer appointments as patronage plums or as opportunities to shape execution of policy, but he doesn’t get to violate the Constitution or laws in doing so.

    • Charles says:

      It’s especially humorous considering where the phrase comes from. Bush political appointees who suddenly wanted to become career civil servants when the Administration was up.

       

      When Republicans accuse people of doing something, one  can be sure they’re the guilty party, and projecting their guilt onto others.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Burrowed? Projection has always been a Republican weapon. I wonder if Sessions is referring not to Obama’s appointees but to the Bush appointees who converted to bureaucratic slots so that they could stay on, left behind in the manner of Operation Gladio operatives, so that they could assure that their departments remained true to Republican aims in spite of there being a Democratic president?

    True to form, Team Trump is not tied to reality or to governance. Its language plays to the mob; its actions, hidden, are mob-like. As Henry Giroux has said, this administration is at war with democracy. They should not be the only ones on the battlefield.

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