A shake-up is underway nationwide, after President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions went against tradition and asked for the resignations of all sitting U.S. attorneys Friday.
Of the 46 federal prosecutors asked to leave their posts, two are in Oklahoma. Danny Williams and Mark Green served the Tulsa and Muskogee districts, respectively, and both were appointed by President Barack Obama.
“We work at the pleasure of the president, so when the president asks for your resignation, in this case through AG Sessions, you submit your resignation,” said Williams, who resigned on Friday.
The state's third U.S. attorney, Sanford Coats, of Oklahoma City, resigned a year ago in anticipation of the administration change, leaving his deputy in charge.
“Put politics aside,” he said. “That was our direction from Barack Obama.”
Throughout history, new presidents normally let sitting federal prosecutors serve until their new nominees for each district are confirmed through Congress. Coats noted that although resignation requests like this one are not common practice, Bill Clinton announced during his campaign that he would ask the U.S. attorneys to step down once he was elected.
In this case, the news came as a surprise.
“We didn’t get any notice that we were going to be asked to resign,” said Williams. “Even though you know the process is that when a new administration comes in that there’s a chance that you’re going to be leaving.”
U.S. attorneys are the top law enforcement officers and policymakers in their district, and without their leadership, they fear federal indictments and grand jury cases may be put on hold. Coats thinks this sweeping shift in leadership could be detrimental to ongoing and future cases, without an experienced federal prosecutor training the new appointees.
“From my experience that was great because you had folks that were there, knew the job, were steady hands that could help their colleagues around the country,” Coats said.
Coats said it will take many months to nominate a U.S. attorney for each of the 93 districts, then get them approved through Congress. Until then, the offices will work with the career prosecutors they have on staff.
“They’re fine people,” said Coats. “They’ll do the best they can, but there will be a cloud of uncertainty. They’re not going to know who’s in charge.”
Sessions also has the power to appoint interim U.S. attorneys until Congress can confirm Trump’s eventual nominees.
There are only two sitting federal prosecutors who did not have to resign under the new administration.
One is Rod Rosenstein, of Maryland, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and is now nominated to be the next deputy attorney general. The other is Dana Boente, who is the current acting deputy attorney general.