President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence administers the oath of office to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accompanied by his wife Mary on Feb. 9.

President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence administers the oath of office to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accompanied by his wife Mary on Feb. 9. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Faced with Vacancies, Trump Quietly Resets Justice Department Succession

Trump signed the executive order the same day Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in.

In an executive order signed outside the media spotlight last week, President Trump undid his predecessor’s recently revised emergency succession plan for the Justice Department.

The Feb. 9 order released on Friday lists three U.S. attorneys who would take over for the attorney general “during any period in which the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the associate attorney general, and any officers designated by the attorney general pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 508 to act as attorney general, have died, resigned, or otherwise become unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” It was first reported by USAToday.

Trump signed the order the same day Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general and nine days after Trump fired acting AG Sally Yates. Yates had declined to implement Trump’s earlier executive order restricting the entry of immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries, on the basis that it may not be lawful.

At that time, Trump elevated Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who agreed to enforce Trump’s order, though it was later stayed by courts.

The vacancies at Justice required Trump to name successors, and he took the opportunity to shuffle the succession plan released as recently as Jan. 13 by then-President Obama.

After Boente, Trump named the next in line as the attorney for the Northern District of Illinois (Zachary Fardon), followed by U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri (Tammy Dickinson).

Obama, by contrast, had named as successors to the main attorneys general and deputies not Boente but the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia (Channing Phillips); followed by Fardon; followed by the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California (Eileen Decker).

U.S. attorneys have the advantage of having been confirmed by the Senate. Factors in the selection of emergency successors down the line could include their region, politics and access to security clearances for issues decided in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

Trump’s order does not specifically mention the possibility of the attorney general’s office being vacant due to a firing, as happened in the case of Yates.

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