This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
WASHINGTON • Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking the resignations of 46 remaining United States attorneys who were appointed during prior presidential administrations, the Justice Department said Friday.
Many of the federal prosecutors who were nominated by former President Barack Obama have already left their positions, but the nearly four dozen who stayed on in the first weeks of the Trump administration have been asked to leave "in order to ensure a uniform transition," Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.
Utah's U.S. Attorney John Huber is on the list released by Flores. He was appointed to his position by President Barack Obama in August 2015.
Just last week, Huber held a press conference where he announced he would follow the lead of Donald Trump and Sessions in cracking down on violent crime. Utah's top prosecutor announced then that his office would make tackling gang crime a top priority.
Huber is the 37th U.S. attorney for Utah. He took over the office in 2015 after David Barlow left the office in July 2014 to return to private practice.
In his time in office, Huber prosecuted high profile cases involving white collar criminals like Jeremy Johnson whose allegations of an elaborate bribery scheme set off a political scandal involving two ex-Utah attorneys general along with several cases involving polygamy, including food-stamp-related fraud. Recently, his office netted a guilty verdict for a Utah man who previously had been acquitted in state court for fatally shooting Millard County Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox in 2010.
Until the new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, the career prosecutors in the nation's U.S. attorney's offices will oversee investigations and prosecutions, Flores said in her statement.
It is customary for the country's 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions once a new president is in office, but the departures are not automatic. One U.S. attorney appointed by President George W. Bush, Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, remained on the job for the entire Obama administration and is the current nominee for deputy attorney general.
Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney for North Dakota in the Obama administration, recalled that Obama permitted Bush appointees to remain on until their successors had been appointed and confirmed.
"The way the Obama administration handled it was appropriate and respectful and classy," he said. "This saddens me because many of these people are great public servants and now they are being asked to leave."
U.S. attorneys are federal prosecutors who are nominated by the president, generally upon the recommendation of a home-state senator, and are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the territories they oversee. They report to Justice Department leadership in Washington, and their priorities are expected to be in line with those of the attorney general.
Sessions took perhaps a veiled swipe at their work in a memo earlier this week, saying that prosecutions for violent crime have been on the decline even as the number of murders has gone up. The demand for resignations seems a way to ensure he will have a team of new federal prosecutors more likely to share his agenda.
It was not immediately clear when each of the prosecutors would resign, or if they all actually will. And the request for resignations doesn't necessarily mean Sessions plans to accept all of them. In November, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, said that he'd been asked by Trump to stay on and that he intended to.
Bharara's office declined to comment Friday.
Montana's U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said he received a phone call from Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente telling him "the president has directed this."
"I think it's very unprofessional and I'm very disappointed," he said. "What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are US attorneys need to be gone?"
"I gotta write that (resignation) letter. It's going to be a one-liner," he added.
Tribune reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this report.
Associated Press writer Matt Volz in Helena, Montana, also contributed to this report.