It is not just the U.S. federal courts that Trump’s attorney general Jeff Sessions is stuffing with ultra-conservatives, but the offices of the U.S. attorneys across the nation, as well.
To position some or all of the 93 powerful U.S. attorney’s to benefit Republicans and even the Trump and Kushner families, Sessions is using a series of tricks that allow him to avoid having his appointees confirmed by the U.S. Senate, where their records can be properly scrutinized.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions is abusing a little-used statute in an unprecedented way that is leading to an end run around the Senate’s advice and consent authority with respect to U.S. attorneys,” reports Slate.
“Given what we know about the ongoing investigations into the president and Trump’s authoritarian instincts,” continues Slate, “this is a frightening and dangerous development.”
According to Slate, Sessions is gaming the system by making interim appointments which in many cases can later be made permanent by a friendly federal judge without ever having to parade before the Senate as the law normally demands.
This is important to an administration where there are an ever growing number of scandals and attempts to twist laws and regulations to benefit the wealthy – friends and donors to the president in many cases – especially if their name is Trump or Kushner.
A U.S. attorney exercises enormous power to decide what cases to pursue, how to mobilize lawyers and investigators and even whether to seek harsh or light sentences when there is a conviction.
“Friendly U.S. attorneys could potentially divert resources to relieve press on Trump and his family,” writes Slate.
“What if a U.S. attorney moved to settle a series of controversial cases and then diverted resources from areas of Trump family legal concern (e.g., money laundering, tax collection, securities fraud) to other less politically fraught areas (human trafficking, gangs, war on drugs, etc)?”
“Regardless of how justifiable such a decision may or may not be in a vacuum,” adds Slate, “it would be scandalous if done in order to attempt to relieve pressure on Trump or his allies.”
So how does Sessions, who in March 2017, fired almost all of the then-current U.S. attorneys, sidestep the Senate confirmation process and load up the system with cronies, friends, and allies?
Facing a Bush administration scandal, the Congress in 2007 passed new laws to limit the use of interim appointments of U.S. attorney to 120 days.
However, the new law still gives the attorney general virtually unlimited discretion in who to appoint.
Sessions has the same power over the 46 U.S. attorneys he summarily fired in March 2017, but it is even worse. In those cases, his interim appointments can serve up to 300 days.
That time is supposed to be used to find qualified permanent candidates and give the Senate an opportunity to interview them and, if suitable, approve their appointment.
When Sessions does not do that, the law says the federal district court can appoint a U.S. attorney to serve until the vacancy is filled – but there is no limit on how long that might be.
The courts are not equipped to vet the candidates and many are political appointees themselves, so the likelihood is they will just endorse whoever Sessions send them.
With the Republicans in control of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the one place where this trickery might be challenged remains silent.
It is no accident that Sessions has given special attention to U.S. attorneys in the metro New York City and New Jersey area, where The Trump Organization and Jared Kushner’s family business is most often called to account.
Slate points out that Kushner and Trump and allies have used Deutsche Bank many times and it is the subject of a number of investigations. That falls to Geoffrey Berman, whom Sessions picked for an interim appointment in the Southern District of New York.
Berman arrives with his own ties to the bank, where a decade ago he did legal work when he was brought in by Robert Khuzami, its general counsel.
After Berman got the job, he brought in Khuzami as his deputy.
“Trump ‘personally interviewed Mr. Berman for the job,’ according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal,” writes Slate, adding that “A president interviewing a potential U.S. attorney is “rare,” and the move was seen as “particularly troublesome, given the office’s authority over Mr. Trump’s home city and the seat of his business empire’.”
Kushner’s family business is also being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s in the area related to its use of EB-5 visas for immigrant investors.
Besides giving Trump and pals favorable treatment, a friendly U.S. attorney could use his or her access to the entire judicial and legal system to pass on information that would be of interest to Trump and Kushner’s lawyers.
That could include the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and regularly communicates with the FBI and others whose confidential files could be accessed by a corrupt prosecutor.
To be clear, there is no evidence at present of any corruption, but the potential is there and the dangers are very real – especially when an attorney general who has shown himself to be such a Trump partisan is pulling the strings.
Sessions’ “actions represent a test of civil society’s ability to fight back against threats to the rule of law,” warns Slate, adding: “Thus far, the test is going poorly.”