President Donald Trump pledged to be tough on crime during last year’s campaign, a message that resonated with voters here and across the country. To make good on that promise, the president should act swiftly in appointing U.S. attorneys to serve south Louisiana.
Last week, new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations “in order to ensure a uniform transition.”
Kenneth Polite of the New Orleans-based Eastern District had already announced his resignation effective later this month, but Sessions’ subsequent directive speeded his exit. Stephanie Finley, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana that serves Acadiana, had announced her retirement earlier this month. Walt Green, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District in Baton Rouge, complied with Sessions’ request to resign. A group of area officials, including East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore, more than 25 sheriffs, other district attorneys and chiefs of police, signed a letter asking that Green be allowed to stay in his post. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, passed along the letter to the White House and joined in the request for Green to stay on.
Departures of U.S. attorneys aren’t anything new when presidential administrations change. Presidents have often allowed U.S. attorneys appointed in previous administrations to serve indefinitely until replacements are found, but that isn’t always the case. In 1993, newly elected President Bill Clinton moved quickly to clean house, and Sessions, then serving as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, was among those shown the door.
Trump has every right to put his own appointees in place, but he should do so with all due speed. Louisiana’s legacy of corruption underscores the need to have strong U.S. prosecutors on the job safeguarding the public interest. While the officials serving as interim U.S. attorneys across south Louisiana have strong credentials, these offices need stable, long-term leadership. Polite has been an important player in crime-fighting efforts in New Orleans, and Green was active in combating fraud related to flood recovery. Now is not the time to drop the ball on those initiatives. Trump’s administration has been slower than most in filling key administration slots, but we hope that isn’t the case with these U.S. attorney posts.
Nominees for U.S. attorney positions must be approved by the Senate, and each state’s senators have traditionally had a big say in who’s appointed. We hope that Louisiana’s U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, advocate for experienced, capable candidates for the posts. The senators should also do what they can to ensure that their fellow senators act on any nominations swiftly.
That’s the best way to give the new administration’s crime-fighting capability some teeth.