When Kenneth Polite announced Friday he was stepping down as U.S. attorney, he planned to give himself two weeks to wrap things up.
It turned out he had only a few hours.
As it happened, Polite’s announcement came on the same day the Department of Justice asked for the resignations of the 46 holdover U.S. attorneys who were appointed during President Barack Obama’s tenure.
And the request was an urgent one: Rather than giving the prosecutors a few days or a couple of weeks for office parties and valedictory speeches, they were all asked to depart immediately.
In fact, Preet Bharara, the high-profile U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, refused to comply on Friday. On Saturday, he announced on Twitter that he had been fired.
Polite’s story took a slightly different twist. As WWL-TV first reported Monday, he was told Friday evening that resigning effective March 24 wasn’t good enough and that he had to clear out immediately.
The news was delivered by Dana Boente, who was Polite’s predecessor in New Orleans, where he served in an interim capacity. Boente is now an acting deputy attorney general.
On Saturday morning, Polite, 41, tweeted that he felt like “Craig from Friday,” a reference to a character who was let go on his day off. “I voluntarily resigned, but then I got fired!” Polite wrote, alongside a video clip from the 1995 movie.
Polite said in an interview late Monday that the suddenness of the order to clear out took him by surprise.
Just two days earlier, he said, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had hosted a conference call with Polite and his colleagues from around the country in which Sessions welcomed advice from the various U.S. attorneys and even invited some to conduct follow-up briefings. There was no hint the ax was about to fall.
"That was Wednesday, man," Polite said.
Duane Evans, who had been first assistant U.S. attorney under Polite, has been named acting U.S. attorney.
President Donald Trump has not nominated anyone for the permanent post. The process of picking U.S. attorneys — there are 93 across the country — can take many months.
The president typically relies on ranking members of his political party, particularly U.S. senators, when making that choice, in this case Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy. Neither senator has hinted publicly at whom they might support, although a handful of people have emerged as possible contenders for the job.
The sacking of U.S. attorneys is a feature of every transfer of power in Washington, but the way it unfolds can vary.
Some of the prosecutors fired last week said they were shocked — not to lose their jobs, which they expected, but to be hustled out the door so suddenly. An Associated Press story said that the “abrupt nature of the dismissals — done with little explanation and not always with a customary thanks for years of service — stunned and angered some of those left behind in offices around the country.”
Polite said it is "literally impossible to transition out of any job on a few hours' notice — let alone the job of chief law enforcement officer for the district." Such an abrupt change "really does hamper the work of the office and make continuity difficult," he added.
Harry Rosenberg, who served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana under President George H.W. Bush, said he felt a bit of “déjà vu” as he watched Polite get pushed out.
In March 1993, Rosenberg said, then-Attorney General Janet Reno sent a letter telling all of the U.S. attorneys appointed by her predecessor that they had “five days to pack up and leave.”
Getting kicked to the curb wasn’t a shock, he said.
“You go in with the tide, you go out with the tide,” he said. “It was expected that since I was a presidential appointee, there would be someone else holding that office."
But before the Clinton administration, Rosenberg said, the typical practice was to allow a sitting U.S. attorney to serve until a permanent replacement had been approved by the Senate.
“I didn’t expect it to happen in a nanosecond,” Rosenberg said of the 1993 housecleaning. “As far as I know, that was the first time it happened with such rapidity.”