In what is often a hands-off presidency when it comes to matters that don’t interest him personally, Donald Trump is taking an unusual, and some would say inappropriate, direct interest in certain candidates for certain U.S. attorney positions, including two in New York and one in Washington. In all three cases, he has personally interviewed prospective chief federal prosecutors who could be dealing with cases involving Trump properties or allegations of misdeeds by the 2016 Trump campaign. And in two cases, Trump has connections with the interviewees or their employers. CNN has the story:
Geoffrey Berman, an attorney at the firm that currently employs Rudy Giuliani as a leading partner, met with Trump about a position atop the Southern District of New York, which covers Manhattan, two sources familiar with the meeting said. Ed McNally, a partner at the New York law firm founded by Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz interviewed for the Eastern District of New York, overseeing Brooklyn, the sources said.
A third candidate personally interviewed by Trump, Jessie Liu, has already been appointed and confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
This is not normal.
According to multiple former US attorneys and several law enforcement sources CNN interviewed for this story, such a meeting with the President as part of the interview process would be virtually unheard of in past administrations.
The reason is pretty simple: Keeping the president out of the appointment process helps maintain the independence of federal prosecutors. It hasn’t been that long since politicization of U.S. attorneys became a major scandal in the George W. Bush administration. Add in the possibility of a direct presidential interest in cases that might arise in the districts in question, and you have the makings of a real problem.
A Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is raising the alarm, as Politico reports:
“To be very blunt, these three jurisdictions will have authority to bring indictments over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians and potential obstruction of justice by the president of the United States,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in an interview Thursday. “For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference.”
Given Republican control of the Senate, Trump’s conduct with respect to these appointments probably won’t get him into the kind of trouble he’s clearly inviting. Indeed, one might best describe him as courting the appearance of impropriety. Perhaps that’s a perk of power he enjoys. But it’s dangerous to the justice system.