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Old 11-26-2019, 03:19 AM
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How independent is SDNY -- and how?


(This is intended as a General Questions type of query, but totally political so I suppose Elections is the right forum.)

I've seen it mentioned here and there in the media that SDNY is somewhat independent of Washington (i.e., not under the thumb of Bill Barr), thus explaining why it can investigate things like Trump's questionable payments, Giuliani's questionable life, etc.

How is SDNY able to do this? That is, how are they able to act independently of the caprices of Trump, Barr, etc., to go after investigations that the Upper Echelons might not like?

Example (chosen quasi-randomly from a page of DuckDuckGo hits) from an October article in Vanity Fair:
Quote:
Trump fired Bharara as head of the SDNY in March 2017 and later installed Berman, a Republican who had donated to Trumpís 2016 campaign. Berman is also a former law partner of Giulianiís, at Greenberg Traurig, but the two men donít seem to have much of a relationship. The SDNY is famously independent of its bosses at Main Justice, in Washington, but no one is quite sure where the lines are under Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been fiercely protective of Trump.
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Old 11-26-2019, 04:45 AM
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All the US Attorneys maintain a degree of independence from the DOJ leadership as a matter of policy and tradition. They are each the top federal law enforcement officer in their respective district, and for the most part they don't need permission from anyone to pursue a given investigation or indictment,

The SDNY is not special in this regard; but they are very different in that they prosecute a large number of extremely prominent cases due to their district covering Manhattan which is full of high-profile financial crimes, mafia shenanigans, international intrigue, and the like. The SDNY is considered a first among equals for that reason and an appointment there is considered quite prestigious.

That said, US Attorneys are still presidential appointments and can be fired at will. As you pointed out, Trump famously fired Preet Bharara; before that, there was the US Attorney firing scandal during the GWB administration in which nine prosecutors were fired for largely political reasons.

As a general rule, presidents and their AGs have tended to give federal prosecutors a lot of autonomy, but we've seen what happens to institutions whose functioning relies on precedent and tradition in the face of people who just don't give a shit.
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Old 11-26-2019, 05:06 AM
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Is it typical for a newly inaugurated president to fire and replace many, or most, or all US Attorneys, as they do with Cabinet members? (I'm guessing NOT.)
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Old 11-26-2019, 05:19 AM
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It's normal for the president to appoint their own US attorneys, but it's less normal for there to be an abrupt mass firing, such as happened under Jeff Sessions and Janet Reno. Usually it happens over the course of a year or two.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 11-26-2019 at 05:21 AM.
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Old 11-26-2019, 06:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
Is it typical for a newly inaugurated president to fire and replace many, or most, or all US Attorneys, as they do with Cabinet members? (I'm guessing NOT.)
Traditionally every US Attorney will submit a resignation letter after a new president is inaugurated. It's up to the new president to accept each resignation or not. Usually the majority of US Attorneys will be replaced by a new administration after a few months.
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Old 11-26-2019, 06:54 AM
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Quote:
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Is it typical for a newly inaugurated president to fire and replace many, or most, or all US Attorneys, as they do with Cabinet members? (I'm guessing NOT.)
Yes. It is all but guaranteed. Clinton (through Janet Reno) famously fired all 93 at one time. This was unusual, but only in timing. Bush 43 fired them all over a several month period on some sort of individualized schedule, but they were more or less gone by April. Obama (as I recall) did it in batches. In the Trump administration, about half of the Obama-appointed US Attorneys had left and Sessions fired the remaining ~40.

I don't know the numbers for Trump or Obama, but Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43 all replaced about 89 of the 93 US Attorneys in their first two years and most of those within the first year.

(I do not that, despite the mass "resignations" a handful of US Attorney's seem to survive the purge so that each president has a couple of US Attorneys that were originally appointed by their predecessor).

Last edited by Falchion; 11-26-2019 at 06:54 AM.
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Old 11-26-2019, 09:52 AM
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What generally happens to the attorneys who lose their jobs with each incoming presidential administration? They are government employees; I'm assuming they aren't making seven figure incomes while in office. They presumably need to find new jobs in short order - and do so while dozens of their peers are doing the same.

Is it pretty much a given that any federal attorney will have a job waiting for them at some private firm? Or do people accept these job, knowing that they might end up unemployed in four years?
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Old 11-26-2019, 10:00 AM
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People appointed to be US Attorneys are already quite experienced - these are typically people who have spent their whole careers involved in criminal law in some way. An appointment to US Attorney (in any district) is very prestigious and anyone so appointed will have no problem at all finding a partnership somewhere, assuming they resigned in the normal fashion and not due to a scandal.
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Old 11-26-2019, 10:50 AM
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What generally happens to the attorneys who lose their jobs with each incoming presidential administration? They are government employees; I'm assuming they aren't making seven figure incomes while in office. They presumably need to find new jobs in short order - and do so while dozens of their peers are doing the same.

Is it pretty much a given that any federal attorney will have a job waiting for them at some private firm? Or do people accept these job, knowing that they might end up unemployed in four years?
They will almost certainly have numerous opportunities at private firms (or think tanks, etc.). Some retire. (A, to me, surprising, number of US Attorneys are senior AUSAs from the district.). Some enter electoral politics (for example, Jeff Sessions was fired as US Attorney in the Reno Purge of 1993 and pretty quickly ran for state attorney general).

Consider Loretta Lynch: She joined the EDNY in 1990 as a "line" attorney; was appointed US Attorney by Clinton in 1999. She left in 2001 (change in administration) and joined a big NY law firm until she was re-nominated as US Attorney in 2010.

In any event, it is an excellent capstone to your career; or stepping stone for a cabinet position (or senior DOJ position) in a future administration of your party; or a very marketable "skill" for a private law firm.
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Old 11-26-2019, 10:54 AM
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These guys are typically at the top of their game so being fired just means they'll just pack up and start another prestigious career elsewhere, there's plenty of state jobs out there that they'd be well qualified to fill. Or they can run for mayor someplace and then later turn to a life of crime.
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Old 11-26-2019, 12:21 PM
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These guys are typically at the top of their game so being fired just means they'll just pack up and start another prestigious career elsewhere, there's plenty of state jobs out there that they'd be well qualified to fill. Or they can run for mayor someplace and then later turn to a life of crime.
Oh come on. Letís be realistic.
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