"As was the case in prior transitions, many of the United States attorneys nominated by the previous administration already have left the Department of Justice. The attorney general has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed US attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition," Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said.
A list of the US attorneys asked to resign was not immediately available.
"Until the new US attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our US attorney's offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders," Flores said.
Two sources familiar with the Justice Department tell CNN they were unsure for some time whether such an action would happen and had been looking for some type of announcement -- but had received radio silence.
"There was not any particular clarity from the Justice Department as to what the future held for the US attorneys" until now, one source said.
Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein said she was "surprised" and "concerned" by the news of the firings, saying the actions contradict what she was told by the Vice President and other administration officials.
"In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once," the California senator said in a statement. "Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case."
Administrations have the right to replace and nominate US attorneys. President Bill Clinton, for instance, dismissed dozens of US attorneys in his first year of office.
In mid-March 2001, President George W. Bush's attorney general said he was transitioning most of the 93 US attorneys before June of that year.
President Ronald Reagan replaced a majority of his administration's US attorneys within his first two years in office.
The news came as Trump's administration was raising alarms about interests within the administration working against the current White House.
"I think that there's no question when you have eight years of one party in office, there are people who stay in government --- and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday. "So I don't think it should come as any surprise there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration and may have believed in that agenda and may continue to seek it."
Spicer's remarks were in response to a question about the existence of the "deep state," a phrase meant to suggest non-elected individuals controlling the work of the federal government.
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