WASHINGTON — Two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered dozens of the country’s top federal prosecutors to clean out their desks, he gave those political appointees a pep talk during a conference call.
The seemingly abrupt about-face Friday left the affected U.S. attorneys scrambling to brief the people left behind and say goodbye to colleagues. It also could have an impact on morale for the career prosecutors who now must pick up the slack, according to some close to the process. The quick exits aren’t expected to have a major impact on ongoing prosecutions, but they gave U.S. attorneys little time to prepare deputies who will take over until successors are named.
“It’s very, very gut-level reaction,” said Steven Schleicher, a former prosecutor who left Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s office in January and was still in contact with people there.
The request for resignations from the 46 prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration wasn’t shocking. It’s fairly customary for the 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their posts once a new president is in office, and many had already left or were making plans for their departures. Sessions himself was asked to resign as a U.S. attorney in a similar purge by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.
But the abrupt nature of the dismissals — done with little explanation and not always with the customary thanks for years of service — stunned and angered some of those left behind in offices around the country.
Former prosecutors, friends and colleagues immediately started reaching out to each other on a growing email chain to express condolences and support, commiserating about how unfair they felt the situation was. One U.S. attorney was out of state on Friday and was forced to say goodbye to his office by a blast email, said Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney from North Dakota who was included on the email chain.