President Donald Trump has withdrawn the nomination of the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to a senior Treasury Department post — just ahead of a scheduled confirmation hearing Thursday.
The official, Jessie Liu, had served as the top federal prosecutor in the nation’s capital since 2017. She was abruptly replaced two weeks ago by Timothy Shea, an adviser to Attorney General Bill Barr.
Liu almost certainly would have faced questions from senators Thursday about two politically sensitive cases handled by prosecutors in her office — that of Trump adviser Roger Stone and of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — which have been marred in recent days by allegations of political intervention.
Axios first reported the news of Liu’s withdrawn nomination Tuesday night followed by several other outlets. The news came after four career prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case, and one resigned entirely from the Justice Department, after the department revised downward its recommended sentence for Stone.
Trump denied speaking to the Justice Department about its initial recommendation that Stone serve up to nine years in prison, but on Twitter he called it a “miscarriage of justice.” And, after the recommendation was revised, he tweeted “congratulations” to Attorney General Bill Barr for “taking charge” of the case.
Liu’s early removal as U.S. attorney came at the same time that Barr moved to take over legal matters of personal interest to Trump, NBC News reported Tuesday night, citing multiple unnamed sources familiar with the matter.
And even before her nomination was pulled Tuesday, Justice Department veterans expressed concern to TPM about the nature of Liu’s sudden removal as U.S. attorney in the nation’s capital, and about Shea, her Senate un-confirmed interim replacement.
One former senior Justice Department official told TPM recently that Liu’s early departure as U.S. Attorney was “suspicious,” “odd” and “not a good look for the department.”
Matt Miller, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department, said in a recent interview that Liu’s departure as U.S. Attorney was “very strange” given that she hadn’t yet been confirmed to the Treasury Department post.
Senators planning for Liu’s now-scrapped confirmation hearing, Miller said, might have asked “whether anyone pressured her to change the sentencing recommendations for Michael Flynn” among other things. (Liu left the U.S. Attorney’s office before the Stone sentencing recommendation was made.)
But now, there won’t be a chance to ask the former U.S. attorney about the nature of her departure.
“It’s always a concern when the administration tries to evade Senate hearings by using interim and acting appointments,” Kristy Parker, counsel for the group Protect Democracy and the former deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told TPM.
“That’s especially true in an administration where the President has openly politicized the Department and suggested that its powers should be used as a weapon against his political opponents.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, would have had a chance to ask Liu questions about her time as U.S. attorney at her confirmation hearing Thursday.
Instead, he noted Liu’s withdrawn nomination at the beginning of an unrelated hearing Wednesday morning.
“It’s pretty clear the President of the United States did learn a lesson” from the recent Senate acquittal of the impeachment charges against him, Brown said.
“The lesson: He can do whatever he wants, he can abuse his office, and he’ll never, ever be held accountable by this Senate.”