Out of Trump's 29 U.S. Attorney Nominees, 28 Are Men

July 25, 2017
Guest Post

by Dan Froomkin and Victoria Bassetti, Brennan Center Contributor

Donald Trump's contempt for women assumes many forms. His selection of nominees to serve as U.S. attorneys around the country has proven to be one of them: Of the 29 people he has nominated for U.S. attorney positions, 28 are men.

Fully 25 are white men. There's one Asian-American woman, one African-American man, one Asian-American man and one Native American man.

By contrast, at a similar point in his presidency, Barack Obama had nominated 20 U.S. attorneys, 11 of whom were white men. There were five women – four white and one Asian-American — as well as three African-American men and one Asian-American man.

Trump's U.S. attorney nominees are an even less diverse bunch than his other top-level nominees -- although they, too, are an overwhelmingly white and male group. The Partnership for Public Service, which tracks 570 key positions that require Senate confirmation (not including the 93 U.S. Attorney positions), calculates that of the 213 people Trump has nominated so far, 169 – or 80 percent -- are men. The Partnership doesn't track race.

The extraordinary statistics for Trump's U.S. attorney nominees – 97 percent male, 86 percent while male – hearken back to a much earlier era of U.S. history, and are raising serious concerns.

“There has been a striking lack of diversity so far in President Trump's nominations for federal prosecutors," said Vanita Gupta, the former acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, who is now president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

"U.S. attorneys are the lead federal law enforcement position in communities across the country and they have an enormous impact on communities of color. Our diversity is part of what makes America great, and our government should reflect the communities it serves,” Gupta said.

In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was widely mocked for insisting that he consulted "binders full of women" before making key hires. "Trump has binders full of men," said Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society. "You don't nominate 97 percent men if your candidate pool isn't essentially all male."

"The more diversity of views you have when these decisions are made, the more justice you can deliver," said Joyce White Vance, a career federal prosecutor who was one of the first five U.S. attorneys Obama nominated. She served until the eve of Trump's inauguration.

"The idea is that you're selecting the most qualified person in each community for this position," she said. "I'm sure in many of these communities there were highly qualified women as well as people from other diverse communities."

Vance noted that the decision-making about U.S. attorney nominees typically involves the state's U.S. senators, the attorney general and the deputy attorney general.

"One possible takeaway from these numbers is that women aren't being viewed as leaders in law enforcement," she said.

Vance said she treasured a picture taken at Loretta Lynch's swearing-in as the second female U.S. attorney general in April 2015. Lynch is surrounded by 20 women U.S. attorneys and acting U.S. attorneys – "and that wasn't even all of us," Vance said.

U.S. attorneys will have a major role in executing the new priorities of the Trump administration which, as we understand them so far, include tougher drug sentencing, more civil asset forfeiture and searching for nearly nonexistent voter fraud.

Although Trump is moving at a vastly slower pace in nominations in general than Obama – Obama had sent a total of 373 nominations to the Senate by this point, compared to 226 for Trump --  he is going at a faster pace when it comes to U.S. attorneys. That is likely because Trump in March demanded that the 46 remaining U. S. attorneys who had been appointed under President Obama resign effective immediately.

The Obama administration, by contrast, eased out Bush appointees over the course of the first year.

Trump's massive purge notably included Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, who was fired after he refused to quit. Bharara had earlier been assured by Trump that he would stay on, but one day before the purge had declined a personal phone call from the president as an inappropriate breach of protocol.

ProPublica reported in June that Marc Kasowitz, then Trump’s personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, took credit for getting Bharara fired.

One small consolation to progressive observers of Trump's U.S. attorney picks is that although the nominees are overwhelmingly white and male, most don't appear to be the kind of partisan extremists some had feared Trump would select.

"I'm glad to see that many of the nominees are people with career experience in the Justice Department. That's always very reassuring," Vance said.

Barbara McQuade is a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan – and was one of the 46 forced out by Trump in March.

"It is concerning that only one out of nearly a third of the 93 U.S. attorney nominees is a woman, but this administration has 65 U.S. attorney nominations to go, so I will reserve judgment," McQuade wrote in an email.

"Still, one wonders what might be behind the numbers. Are fewer women seeking to serve as U.S. attorney in this administration?   Does the administration favor candidates with a philosophy about criminal and immigration law that is skewing toward male candidates?  I am not sure how to explain it, but will be curious to see how the numbers shake out when all 93 are nominated."

Indeed, two thirds of the nominees are yet to come.

"What you would hope is that there would be an internal correction by the administration," Vance said.

"If you have just a little bit of self-awareness, people who don't look like you start to look more qualified."

Trump's one woman U.S. attorney nominee is also the only one that, in an unusual break with protocol, he insisted on meeting personally: Jessie K. Liu, who would serve as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

But Trump's insistence on meeting with her face to face likely had more to do with the fact that she might be in a position to prosecute him and his staff someday, rather than her gender.