U.S. attorney's future unclear under Trump administration

Attorney has targeted public corruption during her tenure

By Dave Collins
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut U.S. attorney is facing an uncertain job future as the presidency changes hands from one political party to another.

Deirdre Daly, the top federal prosecutor in the state, has held the position since 2014, when she was nominated by Democratic President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

U.S. attorneys are political appointees who often are called upon to resign when a new president of a different party than the last president takes office. It’s assumed the new president will want to install his or her own people into government posts, but that doesn’t always happen.

It’s not clear if Republican President-elect Donald Trump will want to replace Daly, given that he already has asked Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to stay. Bharara, who agreed to remain, was appointed by Obama in 2009 and has won praise for taking on Wall Street and public corruption. Trump promised a return to “law and order” during the campaign.

Trump spokesmen did not return messages seeking comment.

Daly, who declined to comment for this story, also has targeted public corruption during her tenure.

Last year, she created the Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force to investigate corrupt officials and the misuse of public funds. Federal authorities in Connecticut currently are investigating whether the state Democratic Party illegally spent about $278,000 on Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election campaign in 2014. Malloy was an outspoken supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“During the campaign, Trump talked a lot about clamping down on political corruption, illegal immigration,” said William Dunlap, a professor at the Quinnipiac University School of Law. “It’s really hard to know whether he’s going to follow his drain-the-swamp approach and appoint somebody who doesn’t have ties to the political establishment. I don’t think it’s even certain that he’ll replace Deirdre Daly.”

Daly’s office also has targeted drug dealers amid a spike in overdose deaths, sought to improve community-law enforcement relations in the wake of fatal shootings of blacks by police and aimed to crack down on hate crimes.
Last month, Daly sent out a “Thanksgiving message” of tolerance and cultural understanding, citing increased incidents of hatred and bigotry across the country. She said in the statement that people should reflect on the country’s bedrock principles, “particularly after our highly contested presidential election.” Daly is a registered Democrat, public records show.

Regardless of who the U.S. attorney is, the office is not one that pushes political agendas, said Stanley Twardy, Connecticut U.S. attorney from 1985 to 1991.

U.S. attorneys do have the autonomy to set priorities for their offices, such as focusing on immigration enforcement, white collar crime and public corruption, said Michael Clark, a former FBI agent in Connecticut who now lectures at the University of New Haven. He said that during his 22 years in the FBI, from Ronald Reagan to Obama, he never saw a presidential directive affect his work.

“The Department of Justice, for the most part you want them to be independent of any political pressure,” he said. “Connecticut has a long tradition of that.”