Don Blankenship was once the most baronial of the West Virginia coal barons. His greed and contempt for the law were legendary — John Grisham used him as the template for his villain in the 2008 best-selling novel The Appeal. Annoyed by lawsuits that were costing him money, Blankenship spent $3 million to elect a judge to the state supreme court, after which he stopped losing lawsuits. Even after 29 miners died in an explosion in one of his mines — an explosion that miners and regulators claimed was the result of Blankenship’s penny pinching and disdain for miner safety — he remained untouchable.
Except by Booth Goodwin. While state authorities stood by, U.S. Attorney Goodwin spent years meticulously putting together and trying cases against Blankenship’s underlings and ultimately Blankenship himself. Goodwin was the reason Blankenship spent last Christmas in a jail cell instead of cavorting on the French Riviera with his favorite State Supreme Court judge (named Spike — I am not making this stuff up, there are pictures).
Booth Goodwin ran for governor but came in second in the Democratic (!) primary to a billionaire coal baron noted for greed, contempt for the law and indifference to fines and debts. So US Attorney Goodwin is gone, his office held down by an acting US Attorney.
Sheldon Silver bestrode the politics of the state of New York like a colossus, especially after becoming Speaker of the General Assembly in 1994. His immense power, and his willingness to deploy it in return for sufficiently enormous payoffs, were legendary for decades. He was untouched, and apparently untouchable, until another legendary figure — US Attorney Preet Bharara — indicted Silver on seven counts of public corruption. Silver was convicted on November 30, 2015 on all counts and sentenced to at least 10 years in prison.
Bharara was famous for his avid and often successful pursuit of wealthy and powerful criminals, prominently including Russian money launderers and organized crime in Manhattan, where Donald Trump’s residence and many of his businesses are located. On March 10, 2017, Bharara was fired (forced to resign) by the Trump organization, after having been asked personally by President Trump to stay on the job. So US Attorney Preet Bharara is gone, his office occupied by an acting US Attorney.
On July 13, 2017, four months after Bharara’s firing, Sheldon Silver’s convictions were overturned by an appeals court. All of them. Of the 45 other US Attorneys fired the same day as Bharara was forced out, all because they had been appointed by President Obama, none has yet been replaced.
The fourth most powerful US Attorney in the United States is the one who presides over the Eastern District of Virginia. Dana Boente has held that post since he was appointed to it by President Obama in 2015. He is a career prosecutor, who briefly held the position of acting Attorney General of the United States after the forced resignation of Sally Yates, who refused to enforce President Trump’s travel ban because she believed it to be unconstitutional. So she’s gone.
Boente resigned as requested in the spring of 2017, but President Trump declined to accept his resignation and he stayed on the job. There he worked closely and actively with Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration. A grand jury convened in and by the Eastern District had already been considering charges against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and continued to do so in cooperation with Mueller.
A few days before Mueller announced the first criminal charges filed as a result of his investigation, Boente was abruptly forced by the Trump administration to resign. No reason has been given. So he’s gone. His office is occupied by an acting US Attorney.
The rising tide of greed and corruption that has been threatening for so long to completely overwhelm our economy and our politics has been held back, in case after case after case, only by the integrity and the doggedness of our US attorneys — a thin grey line of pinstripe-suited warriors, holding at bay the forces of chaos and destruction.
Of them all, Robert Mueller is certainly among the best and quite likely among the last. Soon he will be gone, and his office will be empty.