Unlike many parts of the country, the Charlotte area still has a U.S. attorney.
That’s because Jill Westmoreland Rose, the top federal prosecutor for the Western District of North Carolina, is not officially considered a presidential appointee.
Rose, a longtime federal prosecutor, took over the job when her predecessor, Anne Tompkins of Charlotte, resigned two years ago to return to private practice. Rose became the acting U.S. attorney. Eventually, the “acting” was dropped from her title.
Thus, when the Trump administration fired 46 U.S. attorneys on Friday, Rose got to stay – at least until her replacement is named. Even then, Rose, who’s been with the U.S. Department of Justice for more than 17 years, can go back to her former job as an assistant U.S. attorney, prosecuting cases from Charlotte to Asheville.
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The U.S. Department of Justice has 93 U.S. attorneys across the country. All are considered presidential patronage jobs, meaning most are replaced by the incoming administration. Yet many hold onto their jobs past inauguration day to help their successors through the transition.
“Every U.S. attorney knows that the job ends when the presidency ends,” said Tompkins, a Barack Obama appointee who served five years before leaving office in March 2015. “That transition just usually happens in a more organized and respectful way.”
The administration’s call on the remaining Obama appointees to immediately resign on Friday was unexpected. It came less than 24 hours after U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions held a conference call with Rose and the country’s 92 other top prosecutors on Thursday when no mention of the upcoming firings took place.
Thursday night, influential Fox News TV host Sean Hannity called on President Donald Trump to “purge” the “Obama holdovers embedded like barnacles in the federal bureaucracy” who are “hell-bent on destroying” the new administration.
The White House calls telling the 46 prosecutors to leave immediately were made the next day.
Tompkins says the decision appears political because “everyone was fired at once,” adding: “There’s generally not a rush to clean house. As one of my former colleagues said, ‘What possibly could have happened between Thursday and Friday to have all those offices vacated immediately?’ ”
It was not immediately clear how the next U.S. attorney in Charlotte will be selected. Each state has its own process. In 2010, after expressing her interest in the job, Tompkins says, she talked with the office of Sen. Richard Burr and interviewed with a panel created by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who sent three names to the White House.
Monday, the offices of Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis did not immediately respond to emails seeking information about the upcoming selection process.
Over the years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte has played a major role in investigating public corruption, white-collar crime and other criminal cases. Sources have said federal prosecutors in Charlotte are currently working with their counterparts in San Francisco to investigate sales practices at Wells Fargo.
The public corruption cases included prosecutions of two high-profile political figures: former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon on corruption charges in 2014; and former CIA Director David Petraeus, who came to Charlotte in 2015 to plead guilty to sharing highly classified documents with his biographer/lover, Paula Broadwell.
The prosecutors who are departing include Preet Bharara, who led the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. He became known for taking on Wall Street, bringing a slew of insider trading cases and mortgage-related prosecutions against Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks.
Rose, who has held five different positions in the same office during her career, said no matter her future role, “I will continue to carry out the mission of the Justice Department and this administration.”
And she promised to ensure “a smooth transition for the eventual nominee.”