President Donald Trump has replaced the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta with another Trump-appointed prosecutor from southern Georgia, bypassing a top career prosecutor.
Trump’s move came after the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung “B.J.” Pak, abruptly resigned Monday. Justice Department officials have declined to say whether Pak resigned voluntarily or was asked to do so.
U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Georgia Bobby Christine said on his office’s website that he was named as the acting U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Monday “by written order of the President.” Christine, a former state prosecutor and magistrate, has served as the senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, which includes the cities of Savannah and Augusta.
In tapping Christine, Trump bypassed the prosecutor who would normally take over on an acting basis in the event of an emergency or sudden vacancy, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine.
A White House spokesperson referred questions about the shuffle back to the Department of Justice.
Trump’s installation of a new leader in the U.S. attorney’s office in Georgia’s largest city comes as he continues to rail against the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for failing to move aggressively against what he has baselessly alleged was rampant fraud in the November election in Georgia and in other swing states.
Georgia election officials have rebutted Trump’s claims in detail. In addition, former Attorney General Bill Barr said late last year that he saw no evidence of widespread fraud that could have affected the outcome of the election. Barr declined to appoint a special counsel to investigate such claims before he resigned last month.
U.S. attorneys are typically replaced following a change in presidential administrations and some do leave in advance of the formal transfer of power. Pak had been expected to stay on through Inauguration Day.
Pak’s resignation and Christine’s assignment were first reported by Talking Points Memo, which quoted an internal memo from Pak attributing his hasty departure to “unforeseen circumstances.” As of mid-morning Tuesday, the “Meet the U.S. Attorney” web page that used to contain Pak’s biography simply said “will be added shortly.”
Last June, Barr made an awkward attempt to oust the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, and replace him on an acting basis with the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, who was viewed as more of a Trump loyalist. While Berman was tapped by the administration to take the job on an acting basis, he was never formally nominated to the post.
The attempted reshuffle prompted outrage from prosecutors in Berman’s office, some of whom had investigated Trump, his companies and his allies over campaign finance allegations and other issues. Barr ultimately backed away from the plan to install Carpenito and allowed the career first assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Audrey Strauss, to take the post on an acting basis.
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