Every four to eight years, depending on whether parties change position, the United States Attorneys in every state get replaced. The normal process is that attorneys who have helped their party retake power and donated substantial sums of labor or money are rewarded with assignments to be the chief federal prosecutor in their state. These are, with few exceptions, noble, honorable men and women who understand they have a serious job to do.
They are appointed by the president, usually with home-state senatorial approbation, and then quietly confirmed by the Senate. Rarely is such an appointment ever controversial. Richard Callahan was the appointed US Attorney in the Eastern District of Missouri under Obama. He was a former circuit judge and he did the job well.
He replaced Catherine Hanaway, a Republican who held the job under George Bush. Hanaway was a political appointee and she spent her eight years going after people who put the most vulnerable in our society – the elderly – in danger. The difference in the quality of the two attorneys: almost none. The effects of having 8 years of a Republican and then 8 years of a Democrat: the same. Laws enforced, prosecutions mounted, justice done.
So, if Catherine Hanaway had done such a great job, why was she asked to resign? Not because she wasn’t good. Not because she wasn’t effective. She was both of those things. Rather, it was because her party lost the election and she serves at the pleasure of the President. The same for Mr. Callahan. Both of these professionals – and I use the term advisedly – understood the rules going in. These are not lifetime appointments. No one expects them to be. You serve, and you move on.
Now we have the Great Preet-ender, Preet Baharara, who has the audacity to suggest that he was removed because of on-going investigations. There is never a time when any US Attorney’s office doesn’t have an active investigation. That has been true in every US Attorney’s office in the last 30 years. Yet on change of administration each attorney gives up their office and walks away because that is what is expected. Except for the Great Preet-ender who suggests that he was fired for political reasons. Of course he was fired for political reasons. That’s the whole point! Trump wants to install someone in whom he has confidence and reward someone who played for his team. It is the way the world works.
Lest anyone think a saint is having his halo removed, it’s worth noting that Preet was not exactly Mr. Nice Guy when it came to how he did his job. He slapped a gag order on Reason magazine, ostensibly to preserve the confidentiality of an investigation, and then forbade them from publishing anything about the gag order until it was lifted. This is called “prior restraint.” Generally prior restraint is forbidden under the Constitution because while penalties for publishing false information only become effective after all appeals are final, a prior restraint becomes effective immediately and without any avenue to appeal it. It is thought to be the most intolerable of actions in violation of the First Amendment.
It is also noteworthy that The Great Preet-ender never went after the Clintons for the Clinton Fraudation, never hauled in the Wiener-mobile to discuss those naked selfies that went out across federally-regulated wires, and similarly never actually jailed anyone on Wall Street for the great crash of 2008. There are some legitimate questions to ask about these failures, but it is amazing that more wasn’t done. That’s particularly true when a supposedly pro-consumer US Attorney was in place to take those actions. Instead he went after people who criticized his office and the Courts. As one pundit put it, he either went after Reason magazine’s commenters as a means of chilling the First Amendment, or he did it as a favor to a judge who was insulted. Either of these reasons is a corrupt one. That seems less like someone interested in justice, and more like someone interested in good press. He is ambitious and apparently unrestrained by the ethics of his office. I worry about men like this enforcing the law in America.
In his “honor” I have re-written the lyrics to The Great Preet-ender as follows:
Oh, yes, I’m the Great Preet-ender
Pretending that I’m doing grand.
I gag the press,
I’m a freaking mess,
My firing, I don’t understand!