President Donald Trump, who faces a delay in getting his Cabinet secretaries confirmed, is moving quickly to fill lower-level jobs in his departments as he looks to replace many of the Obama administration appointees he was forced to retain.
On Wednesday, Trump nominated a trio to the Department of Justice – Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general; Rachel Brand as associate attorney general and Steven Engel as assistant attorney general — while Jeff Sessions’ nomination is mired in partisan bickering.
The move came two days after Trump fired Sally Yates, a Democratic appointee who’d been serving as acting attorney general, instructed Justice Department attorneys not to defend in court the president’s temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
At the start of his term, Trump aides had said they’d kept more than 50 Obama appointees in key government jobs, including Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg and Brett McGurk, who leads the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.
Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Justice Department, said Trump’s goal appears to be to wrestle as much of the work as possible from career people whose loyalties may be with the previous administration and place it in the hands of those who share the viewpoint of the new administration.
“The point is to get the whole team on as soon as possible,” he said.
David Ogden, who served as deputy attorney general in Obama’s first term, said it’s natural for a president to nominate senior officials at agencies even before the Cabinet secretary is confirmed because that process is lengthy.
“The process takes time so the sooner the nominations go up the sooner they can be in place,” he said. “Each of them will require committee hearings, committee votes, and a floor vote, so at least for the ones currently outside the department they are not likely to be in place for a matter of weeks at least.”
Sen. Sessions very much needs these people in the agency because when you get the Senate-confirmed individuals in the agency, they just simply have more credibility to have the agenda advanced.
Leon Fresco, former deputy assistant attorney general
Spokesmen for Sessions and the Department of Justice declined to comment. But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Sessions is supportive of the nominations.
“The deputies, the unders and the actings are in the pipeline,” Spicer said. “This is just a continuation of the process.”
Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for the United States District Court for the District of Maryland and a former nominee to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, was nominated to the Justice Department’s No. 2 post. Brand, an Iowan and member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, was nominated for the No. 3 job. Engel, a Washington lawyer who previously had served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, may head up that office again.
“Rachel Brand is well-known to Judiciary Committee members, having been before us at least three times prior,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “In addition to being an Iowan, and a former intern of mine, she has a long list of impressive educational and professional accolades. She is well-suited to be the associate attorney general and I look forward to having her before the committee once again.”
Ted Olson, who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush, said the three are “excellent selections.”
“All fine and very experienced individuals,” he said.
The White House did not say how many Obama appointees remain.
Yates, who was to serve until Trump’s nominee was installed, said in a letter released to reporters late Monday that she questioned the legality of Trump’s moves to block refugees and temporarily ban entry for citizens from seven Muslim nations. Hours letter, the White House announced Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would replace her as acting attorney general.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Sessions’ nomination Wednesday on a party line vote. The full Senate will likely vote on his nomination next week.
Franco Ordoñez contributed to this article.