Event: Trump Fires U.S. Attorneys

May 2, 2017


On March 10, President Trump dismissed 46 U.S. attorneys. Although this may sound dramatic and to some had a ring of the Saturday Night Massacre during the Watergate scandal, this action is firmly within the norm of American politics. Bill Clinton, for instance, dismissed twice that number at a similar point. Unlike with Watergate, this occurred at the beginning of a presidency and not (to public knowledge) in reaction to an ongoing investigation.


Some have noted the unusual circumstances surrounding Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, who was among the 46. He claims that Trump had earlier assured him he would be kept on; in response, Bharara forced the administration to fire him rather than tender his resignation. Even if a promise was broken (and this can't be confirmed), it would hardly be the first time a president went back on a hiring or firing decision. More importantly, keeping a specific U.S. attorney in place because of a personal relationship is actually the more questionable action.


Even the most committed critics of the president should recognize normal events as normal and differentiate partisan politics from truly dangerous behavior. A focus of Authoritarian Warning Survey is to help readers make such distinctions.

Michael K. Miller is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.


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