In the excellent Paul Newman legal thriller, Wilford Brimley faced a misbehaving Justice Department prosecutor who refused to resign. He fired him. It was Brimley’s breakthrough role, as a no-nonsense older guy there to fix a mess. In a way it prefigured what’s going on with President Trump and former U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Bharara refused to resign, and Trump fired him.
There’s been a lot of faux outrage about this decision of Trump’s, but it’s all bogus. And Bharara’s refusal to resign was childish, an effort to score anti-Trump points with Democrats that, all by itself, demonstrated why Bharara was unfit for office and why Trump was right to let him go.
Here’s the thing to understand: United States attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. The prosecution of crimes, including the decision of which crimes to prosecute and which crimes not to prosecute, is at the discretion of the executive branch, which ultimately means the discretion of the president. U.S. attorneys work for the president in that capacity. And if the president thinks someone else would be better, he’s free to fire them and replace them.