The ouster of many US district attorneys was expected with the arrival of President Donald Trump.
But Trump’s firing of Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, threw turmoil into the process.
Lost amid the furor around Bharara’s dismissal was the resignation of Robert Capers, who led the attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, based in Brooklyn.
While Bharara was known for his high-profile Wall Street prosecutions, the Eastern District has handled a number of complex offenses – since September 11, no US attorney’s office has dealt with more terrorism cases.
In the weeks before Capers’ ouster, his office had begun pursuing the case against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the vaunted Sinaloa cartel kingpin extradited to the US in the hours before Trump was inaugurated.
Proceedings in Guzman’s case have been limited to wrangling over his treatment in a US jail and his access to visitors and representation. After a February 3 hearing, his next court appearance was slated for May 5.
- Reuters/Joe Penney
While it’s not clear when Trump will appoint a replacement, Capers’ departure “should not in any way impact the ongoing prosecution of El Chapo Guzman,” Peter Vincent, a former legal adviser at the US Department of Homeland Security who has dealt with the drug trade and its practitioners, told Business Insider.
Trump’s arrival meant Capers’ exit was expected, Vincent said, and given the significance of Guzman’s case, “it will undoubtedly be essentially jointly prosecuted by both Main Justice and the extraordinarily capable prosecutors from the EDNY.”
“The federal prosecutors from the EDNY assigned to this case have not changed since the departure of Mr. Capers,” Vincent told Business Insider in an email, “and they will, in conjunction with Main Justice, determine both the strategic and tactical aspects of prosecuting the world’s most powerful and feared narcotrafficker.”
- REUTERS/Christine Cornell
Capers’ departure and the arrival of a new US attorney is also unlikely to extend the expected duration of proceedings against Guzman – who might not start his trial for a year or longer, Vincent said.
The process to replace Capers looks set primed for political intrigue.
A number of past and present US prosecutors are reportedly interested in the job, including Arthur Aidala, a Fox News personality and friend of Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani, and Marc Mukasey, partner at the same law firm as Giuliani and son of former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Trump transition officials reportedly asked New York Rep. Peter King for recommendations for certain jobs, like the Brooklyn US Attorney, and the president is likely to seek input on the selection from Giuliani.
However, according to the New York Daily News, US senators typically offer recommendations for US attorneys and federal judgeships. New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are both Democrats.