The Justice Department asked 46 U.S. attorneys to resign Friday.
Some Democrats squawked when the dismissals were announced. “The independence of the Justice Department is at risk,” huffed Sen. Pat Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
The dismissals, though, are routine. U.S. attorneys serve at the president’s pleasure. When the White House changes hands, they’re usually replaced.
Former President Bill Clinton asked for the resignations of 93 U.S. attorneys shortly after he took office. Former President Barack Obama gradually replaced GOP-nominated U.S. attorneys in 2009.
The most recently dismissed knew the day after the election they surely would lose their jobs. There’s no scandal here.
Still, Leahy’s warning is important.
We expect prosecutors to pursue cases regardless of the suspects’ political affiliations. We’d be outraged if a Republican federal prosecutor were interested only in Democratic criminals, or if the reverse were true.
Former President George W. Bush, you may recall, got into trouble when he fired U.S. attorneys appointed by his own party. There was a belief — later supported by some evidence — that several federal prosecutors were ousted because they weren’t partisan enough for some in the Justice Department.
While U.S. attorneys are often picked for political reasons, justice must be strictly nonpolitical. That’s why Americans should keep their eyes on prosecutors’ offices, not just the man or woman at the top.
Some people are concerned about the dismissal of Preet Bharara, the now-former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bharara was known for his prosecutions of political corruption, and his jurisdiction included much of President Donald Trump’s business empire.
If there are pending investigations into political or corporate malfeasance, they must continue.
Trump and his supporters have griped recently about the so-called “deep state,” suggesting that some federal employees allegedly are interested in sabotaging his presidency.
But the “deep state” is just another word for the tens of thousands of government workers who continue to do the nation’s business regardless of the party in the White House.
The permanent government frustrates presidents and many Americans. Of course, federal workers should not actively try to undermine any president.
But our nation depends on a nonpartisan permanent government to function. We would object, rightfully, if the Republican agriculture secretary gave food stamps only to Republicans, or if a Democratic labor secretary protected only Democratic workers.
Politics should stop at the door in every federal workplace. That’s especially true in the prosecutor’s office, which is where all Americans should keep their focus, even if the names change on the office door.