Given what we’ve learned about the investigations into the president’s treason and Trump’s authoritarian instincts, this is certainly a frightening and very dangerous development.
U.S. Attorneys have immense power. From enforcing US drug laws to looking into money laundering, they have a huge amount of discretion regarding how to use the Department of Justice’s minimal law enforcement resources. U.S. Attorneys can make prosecutions of federal statutes far more or far less likely and the sentencing for any violations more or less extreme.
Due to that power, the U.S. Senate should and does have the role of confirming or turning down presidential appointments to this important position. Without that power check, the U.S. attorney offices could easily become another part of the executive branch.
In 2007 —as a response to a Bush administration scandal about U.S. lawyers when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried to purge attorneys that were seen as not sufficiently loyal to Bush— Congress voted to change the statute for U.S. attorney appointments to make it clear that there are limits on the appointment of temporary U.S. attorneys.
But in that amended statute (28 U.S.C. Section 546), attorney generals still have nearly unlimited power in selecting interim U.S. lawyers to serve for a maximum of 120 days. This is where Trump and Jeff’s Sessions are messing with the rule of law.
As was reported by Slate’s Jeff Hauser:
“On March 10, 2017, Sessions summarily fired 46 U.S. attorneys, including most dramatically U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Under the Vacancies Act, the career figures who took over those offices could serve for 300 days on that acting basis. Flash forward the start of this year, when on Jan. 3, the Justice Department announced the appointment of 17 interim U.S. attorneys to replace acting officials whose time had run out.”
Due to the potential legal exposure of Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, Jared Kushner, and the Kushner family business in the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York, and New Jersey, those interim appointments are the most obviously troubling.
For example, the close ties of Trump and Jared Kushner to Deutsche Bank have been the subject of much scrutiny. Sessions’ handpicked interim U.S. attorney for SDNY, Geoffrey Berman, meanwhile, has his own ties to the financial institution that has remained controversial due to its relationships with many figures close to Vladimir Putin.
A decade ago, Berman was brought in to do legal work for Deutsche Bank when Robert Khuzami was its general counsel in the U.S., according to three people familiar with the matter. Now that Berman has been tapped for the Southern District of New York, Khuzami has become his deputy.
Additionally, Trump “personally interviewed Mr. Berman for the job,” according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. A president interviewing a potential U.S. attorney “is rare,” per the Journal, “and the move—reported last fall—was seen by some as particularly troublesome, given the office’s authority over Mr. Trump’s home city and the seat of his business empire.”
The power of new handpicked interim U.S. attorneys to see all evidence for various ongoing investigations is a very big deal.
Beyond preferential treatment, what can a Trump-allied U.S. attorney do to help the Trump or Kushner families? One way is that in his or her 120 days being in charge of the office, an interim U.S. attorney might review case files that are relevant to the legal risk for the president, the Trump Organization, or even the Kushner Companies. A corrupt prosecutor could then share those findings with other political appointees working in the Justice Department and the White House.
Friendly U.S. attorneys might potentially divert resources away from an investigation to relieve pressure on Donald Trump and his criminal family. What would happen if a U.S. attorney tried to settle a series of controversial cases, then diverted resources away from areas of Trump family legal issues (e.g., money laundering, securities fraud, and tax evasion)?
No matter how justifiable such a chose may or may not be by itself, it would be extremely scandalous if it was done in order to try to relieve pressure on Donald Trump or his treasonous allies.