Donald Trump has installed his early and eager supporter, self-described campaign surrogate Jeff Sessions, as chief of the Justice Dept.
He has fired Preet Bharara after the hard-charging U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was assured by the new President that he would be kept on, refused to resign.
And he may come to regret not giving the heave-ho to FBI Director James Comey, who this week told Congress that there is an ongoing investigation of Trump campaign connections to Russia, which attempted to disrupt the U.S. elections with a barrage of hack attacks and misinformation.
But Comey, who also said the FBI and Justice have no evidence that former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower -- as the new Commander-in-Chief has charged – probably shouldn’t be ordering new drapes for his office. (He might also want to scare up a copy of Saturday Night Massacre, the account by James Kirkpatrick Davis of what happened on Oct. 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon’s attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned rather than fire special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox as the under-siege president had demanded.)
Yet even with the power of the presidency and a so-far compliant Republican Congress, there remains one close-to-home prosecutor whom Trump can’t control and can’t fire: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has been hunting for the former real estate mogul’s distinct scalp for years.
Schneiderman sued Trump University for defrauding students, a suit the President said he would never settle but resolved after the election for $25 million. The AG, a Democrat and avid supporter of Hillary Clinton, also went after the Trump Foundation and forced it to desist from seeking outside donations.
Now Schneiderman has hired one of Bharara’s top public-corruption prosecutors, Howard Master, whose focus New York magazine says will include “issues relating to the Trump White House.” Among Master’s successful prosecutions was the corruption conviction of New York State House Speaker Sheldon Silver, The Wall Street Journal said.
To strengthen the Washington chops of his team of some 650 lawyers, New York’s Daily News says Schneiderman has also hired Eric Haren, former chief counsel to Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California.
The animus Schneiderman has for Trump sometimes seems to go beyond prosecutorial zeal, however. In a statement last July to The Forward, a newspaper that bills itself as the voice of New York’s Jewish community, the AG said, “As a Democrat and a Jewish American, I feel that I have a duty to help prevent such a dangerous, offensive, and grossly uninformed individual from occupying the Oval Office.”
Last October, the Journal editorial page accused Schneiderman of misusing “his prosecutorial authority to attack his political enemies” (read Trump) and for selectively targeting the Trump Foundation.
But a recent story in Politico Magazine has Schneiderman sticking to the line that he is just doing his job. It quotes him as telling a caller to a public-radio talk show that he doubted whether any of his investigations would lead to Trump’s impeachment and that he is simply out to enforce the law.
That may be the case; however, it’s rare for a prosecutor to pen an op-ed about the subject of legal action. Yet in August 2013, in a column for the Daily News about Trump and Trump University, Schneiderman wrote, “Some 5,000 hardworking people from all over the country fell for Donald Trump’s sales pitch and ended up getting taken. They were victims of a high-pressure bait and switch. That’s consumer fraud. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, it’s my job to see that perpetrators of fraud are brought to justice. Even if the perpetrator’s name is Donald Trump.”
Now Schneiderman’s new hires seem to be sending the message: “Even if the perpetrator’s name is President Donald Trump.”