DOJ purging all Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys — except the one investigating Hunter Biden

Merrick Garland still not confirmed, but Biden's team breaks from Trump's use of DOJ to do his bidding

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published February 9, 2021 4:30PM (EST)

Joe Biden and Hunter Biden (Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Hunter Biden (Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images)

The Justice Department is expected to ask every U.S. attorney appointed by former President Donald Trump to resign, except the prosecutor who is investigating President Biden's son, Hunter.

Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson is expected to ask 56 U.S. attorneys appointed by Biden's predecessor to step down as soon as Tuesday, CNN first reported. But Wilkinson asked Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who is leading an investigation into Hunter Biden's taxes, to stay on in a Monday night call, according to the report.

John Durham, who was appointed as special counsel by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, will continue his review but resign as the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, per CNN.

Another 25 U.S. attorneys are currently serving in an acting capacity after many Trump appointees resigned during the presidential transition, although acting District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin is expected to continue his investigation into the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

It's unclear when the resignations will go into effect. The report noted that the transition to a new slate of U.S. attorneys, who must be confirmed by the Senate, could take weeks.

It is common for new administrations to replace holdover U.S. attorneys. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly pushed out 46 such Obama-appointed federal prosecutors after taking office in 2017.

One difference from that 2017 purge is that the department does not yet have a Senate-confirmed leader. Biden has nominated D.C. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general, but his confirmation was delayed by former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who retained power over the committee until Democrats and Republicans reached a power-sharing agreement in the evenly divided chamber.

Wilkinson carried out the firings after he was appointed in an acting capacity due to the Biden administration's "distrust" of Trump-era holdovers, according to CNN. But the decision to keep on two Trump appointees who are investigating Biden's son and his former boss marks a stark contrast with Trump, who routinely used the Justice Department to help himself and his allies.

Hunter Biden has said in a statement that he first learned of the investigation into his "tax affairs" in December, although The New York Times reported that the probe began in 2018 and grew out of an investigation into potential money laundering that was later dropped.

"I take this matter very seriously, but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers," Hunter Biden said.

Joe Biden vowed after his election victory that he would not interfere in the Justice Department's probe.

"I'm not going to be telling them what they have to do and don't have to do. I'm not going to be saying go prosecute A, B or C," he told CNN in December. "It's not my Justice Department. It's the people's Justice Department."

It's unclear what prompted the Hunter Biden investigation. Trump and his allies for years tried to allege some kind of wrongdoing by Joe Biden in connection to Hunter's $50,000 per month position on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma and his investment in a private equity fund linked to the Chinese government. Trump was later impeached for pressuring the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into the Bidens even though prosecutors who reviewed the case said there was no wrongdoing on either Biden's part.

Hunter and his uncle James Biden, the president's brother, were also involved in a failed deal involving a Chinese energy firm that later paid Hunter's law firm $100,000 in 2017 in a transaction flagged as suspicious.

Durham's probe into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe is the last of numerous Justice Department reviews into the Obama administration's and FBI's handling of the investigation. Durham was appointed by Barr as special counsel in December to review the FBI's and former special counsel Robert Mueller's actions in the investigation. Trump repeatedly talked up the Durham investigation, vowing that it would find evidence that he was illegally spied on despite previous probes showing that was not the case. The investigation ultimately failed to wrap up before the election, infuriating Trump.

Trump likewise previously touted an investigation by Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, before Horowitz ultimately concluded that there was no evidence the FBI had tried to spy on Trump's campaign.

"We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced" the decision to open the investigation, the report said, adding that the FBI had an "authorized purpose" when it launched the probe to "obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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