U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is reportedly moving to instill loyalty in another U.S. Attorney’s office–this time in the borough of Brooklyn. On Thursday, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donoghue announced he was leaving the office in order to serve as the new principal associate deputy attorney general where he will report directly to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.
According to CNN, Donoghue’s likely and rumored replacement is none other than current Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Seth DuCharme, a top ally of Barr’s who formerly worked in the Downtown Brooklyn-based office that oversees federal criminal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. DuCharme previously led the Eastern District’s criminal division.
The would-be subordinate switcheroo quickly drew criticism.
“U.S. Attorneys are supposed to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate,” said CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti via Twitter. “It looks like Barr is once again trying to install a loyalist into a key U.S. Attorney’s Office in order to increase his control over prosecutions there.”
Others said that there’s no reason to give Barr the benefit of the doubt on the move, particularly in light of Geoffrey Berman’s highly controversial ouster in the Southern District of New York.
“Barr is a Machiavellian politician masquerading as an impartial enforcer of our nations laws,” federal criminal defense attorney Tor Ekeland told Law&Crime. “There is no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt after his interference with the prosecutorial independence of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.”
Donoghue is also considered a favorite of Barr’s, however. The attorney general’s actions appear to be calibrated toward maintaining control over the powerful U.S. Attorney’s Office–which has been responsible, in recent years, for some of the nation’s most high-profile investigations.
During his time in the lush Cadman Plaza surroundings, Donoghue oversaw the prosecutions and convictions of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman and upstate New York NXIVM sex-cult founder Keith Raniere.
But there’s also a Rudy Giuliani-Ukraine angle here.
In February, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) confirming the existence of multiple Ukraine-related probes. The letter was a response to an inquiry about the DOJ’s openly acknowledged process for receiving and evaluating Giuliani’s controversial Ukraine dirt. In the letter, Boyd noted that Deputy AG Rosen had assigned Donoghue to help coordinate “several open matters,” which related to Ukraine in unspecified ways:
In light of several open matters being handled by different U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department components that in some way potentially relate to Ukraine—the existence of which have been publicly reported—Deputy Attorney General [Jeffrey] Rosen has assigned Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to assist in coordinating such matters. The Deputy Attorney General implemented this policy to avoid duplication of efforts across Department Offices and components, to facilitate information sharing, to ensure there are no conflicts among potentially overlapping matters, and to efficiently marshall the resources of the Department. To protect the integrity of ongoing matters, particularly with respect to unsolicited information offered to the Department, the Deputy Attorney General has also assigned Scott Brady, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, to assist in the receipt, processing, and preliminary analysis of new information provided by the public that may be relevant to matters relating to Ukraine.
Seth DuCharme, for his part, was welcomed effusively into the Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) late last year.
“Seth is a dedicated public servant and long-time career prosecutor of the highest caliber,” Rosen said in a December 2019 statement. “From his time as Chief of the Criminal Division in the Eastern District of New York to most recently serving with distinction as Counselor to the Attorney General for criminal and national security matters, Seth’s sharp intellect, quick thinking, and excellent judgment have greatly benefitted [sic] all who have worked with him.”
The DuCharme installation in EDNY was viewed askance by many legal observers.
Notably, the Eastern District of New York has been at the forefront of multiple legal battles ensnaring the Trump White House.
In 2017, prosecutors there began investigating Jared Kushner’s family-owned company over ties to Deutsche Bank. In 2019, the office requested records related to the president’s controversial inaugural committee.
“Although it’s common for presidents to place political allies in these positions, it’s less common to see a systemic purge and replacement of U.S. attorneys overseeing a smattering of investigations that implicate the president and his inner circle,” noted national security attorney Bradley P. Moss in an email. “At a minimum, this is a reminder of how susceptible the system is to abuse due to the wide discretion afforded to the president.”
Ekeland stressed the general concern here in dire terms: “Trump’s will is [Barr’s] will, Rule of Law be damned.”
[image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]