Three months after President Trump abruptly fired half of the nation’s 93 United States attorneys, following the resignations of the other half, he has yet to replace a single one.
It’s bizarre — and revealing — that a man who called himself the “law and order candidate” during the 2016 campaign and spoke of “lawless chaos” in his address to Congress would permit such a leadership vacuum at federal prosecutors’ offices around the country. United States attorneys are responsible for prosecuting terrorism offenses, serious financial fraud, public corruption, crimes related to gang activity, drug trafficking and all other federal crimes.
As is usually the case when confronted with his own incompetence, Mr. Trump has spent his time looking for somebody else to blame.
“Dems are taking forever to approve my people,” the president said in a statement he released on Twitter Monday morning. “They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.”
It’s possible that Mr. Trump is having a hard time luring competent, experienced candidates to work for an administration mired in perpetual chaos and widening scandal. Since Mr. Trump considers loyalty the highest qualification for federal office, that might be. But United States attorney is a highly coveted job under any president, and there should be no shortage of people eager to be considered.
For now, local offices are being run by acting United States attorneys, often career lawyers or deputies held over from the Obama administration. They’re able to manage day-to-day operations, but don’t have the authority to push forward major policy changes. While those changes, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s ordering prosecutors to seek more severe punishments, may be ill-advised, a serious president needs to have the people in place to implement the programs that supposedly matter to him.
Especially when it comes to higher-profile, long-term cases, Senate-confirmed heads are needed to work in coordination with the Justice Department.
The United States attorneys are only the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Trump has yet to nominate a new F.B.I. chief after firing the former director, James Comey, last month. The Justice Department’s criminal, civil and national-security divisions are all under temporary leadership.
These delays are strange even for a White House that ran what one former official called the “slowest transition in decades” and that has dealt with key government posts with all the urgency of a summer barbecue.
While his hiring freeze, which is leaving many lower federal jobs unfilled, is part of a broader strategy to hobble or suffocate entire federal agencies, this seems less deliberate and harder to understand. The prosecutors certainly won’t be coming on board anytime soon. Even in a fully functioning administration, it takes months for nominees to be screened by the F.B.I. and approved by the Senate.
One familiar rationale — that Mr. Trump wasn’t prepared because he never expected to win — may account for some of the delay, but it’s an increasingly embarrassing excuse. You don’t run for president on a major-party ticket as a lark, and you don’t pink-slip top federal prosecutors en masse without a long list of qualified candidates in your back pocket.
There are two other obvious, and perhaps simpler, explanations, and both may be correct. Mr. Trump does not actually believe in or care about his campaign claim of “lawless chaos” in our streets. And Mr. Trump is not a good manager — not of his businesses, certainly, and not of the vastly larger, more complex organization he now runs, the one that matters to the well-being of every American.