Montana US Attorney Says ‘Unprofessional’ Axing is Shocking

Cotter has been the state's top federal prosecutor since December 2009

By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press
United States Attorney for the District of Montana, Michael Cotter, speaks to members of the press following Jordan Graham's sentencing on March 27, 2014. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

HELENA — Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said Friday that he was shocked by the unprofessional manner in which he and 45 other Obama appointees were asked to turn in their resignations by the end of the day.

Cotter told The Associated Press that he received a call Friday afternoon from Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente telling him that President Donald Trump had requested that he and other U.S. attorneys submit their resignations effective at 5 p.m.

“I thought it was pretty unprofessional,” Cotter said. “What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are U.S. attorneys need to be gone?”

Cotter has been the state’s top federal prosecutor since December 2009. When former President Barack Obama took office, U.S. attorneys appointed by former President George W. Bush were allowed to remain at their posts until the new president appointed and the U.S. Senate confirmed replacements.

Cotter said that allowed for continuity, and he had expected the same process under Trump.

Cotter had hoped to meet with all the people across the state who work for the U.S. attorney’s office before his departure. Those plans have been scrapped, as have his plans to meet with Native American officials on the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations next week, and the Crow and Cheyenne reservations the week after that.

“I was stunned. I was shocked,” Cotter said. “There’s a classy way to do things. This doesn’t make sense.”

During his tenure, Cotter sought to improve cooperation with tribal courts on the state’s seven reservations. He also led a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011, a corruption investigation into the misuse of federal money distributed to tribes and the breakup of methamphetamine rings in the state.

Cotter says his assistant, Leif Johnson, will take over the office starting Monday. Johnson, who works out of Billings, has been with the U.S. attorney’s office for more than 25 years, Cotter said.

Cotter he doesn’t know what he will do next, though he said he would like to work to promote voting and civil rights. But, he added, he first had to make his resignation official.

“I’ve gotta write that letter,” he said. “It’s going to be a one-liner.”

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