Despite Changes, Puerto Rico Healthcare System Faces Uphill Climb

While the consensus from members of the healthcare sector is that Puerto Rico needs to implement drastic changes, many are worried that changes will not be properly made or won’t actually tackle the maladies that hinder patient services. (CB)

Editor’s note: This report first appeared in the June 21-27 issue of Caribbean Business

The issues that constantly arise about federal allocations for Puerto Rico’s healthcare system, combined with pressures from the Financial Oversight & Management Board to implement austerity measures, have led the commonwealth government to move forward with changes to the healthcare system.

Many changes to the government’s Mi Salud program are geared toward optimizing results, and not just by reducing the budget but by implementing methods that assist the government in tracking utilization and when funds could be used in a fraudulent manner. Other changes promote market competition, such as a reduction of regions competing for the Mi Salud healthcare contract.

However, some members of the healthcare industry worry the changes may not be implemented in a way that achieves desired results. Additionally, a more prevalent concern seems to be that regardless of the government’s changes, the healthcare system is not going to improve if Puerto Rico does not receive parity with U.S. states for Medicaid and Medicare funding.

Lemonade from lemons for too long

With a $3,500 per capita allocation, Puerto Rico’s Medicaid funding is about one-third of the $10,000 per capita allocation for each of the 50 states. The funding disparity for Medicaid and Medicare has been present since the beginning of the programs. However, in 2010, with the Affordable Care Act (ACA, known as Obamacare), Puerto Rico’s starting position appeared to be more favorable. Yet, as luck, court administrative decisions and congressional action would have it, Puerto Rico was not fully included in the ACA. Instead, the island received a block grant, which ran dry before its deadline.

A lifeline for Puerto Rico’s healthcare system came with a $4.8 billion allocation from the federal government as part of its Hurricane Maria recovery package included in the Bipartisan Budget Act.

For Jaime Plá Cortes, executive president of the Puerto Rico Hospital Association, the problem with the island’s healthcare funding—which Congress assigned under Obamacare, as well as in the hurricane’s aftermath—is not just parity. It is that the numbers seem arbitrary. “They [previously] gave us $5.6 billion. That number didn’t come about through logic; it came out of a determination [that Congress] made,” Plá said at the convention of the Asociación de Salud Primaria de P.R. Inc. (ASPPR, or the P.R. Primary Health Association). “We were angry that we couldn’t identify how [Congress] came up with that number. The $4.8 billion [figure] was not really identified, either. The numbers that [Congress] are giving us are not related to our reality.”

It is worth pointing out that Puerto Ricans pay the same payroll-tax rate, which goes toward funding Medicare, without receiving the same benefits as the individual 50 states. Furthermore, an industry expert explained that in the states, all four parts of Medicare are in an opt-out system; however, in Puerto Rico, Part B is an opt-in portion of the program, and members who want to participate must pay a fee for every year they did not choose this part. Such a fee is not existent in the 50 states because Medicare Part B, by default, is an opt-out system.

Plá, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., seeking equal healthcare treatment for the island, was emphatic when arguing for both the Hospital Association and the ASPPR to continue lobbying, “at an administrative and legislative” level, for improvements to Puerto Rico’s position within the Medicaid and Medicare systems.

Puerto Rico government account balances grow

Addressing grievances

The view of the Hospital Association executive president to continue having a presence in Washington is consistent with other ASPPR convention speakers. Roberto Pando, president of MCS Advantage and MCS Life Insurance Co., was also very emphatic about the level of disparity between Medicaid funding for the island and the U.S. states.

Pando explained that when addressing members of Congress or the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a common argument he receives is that because Puerto Rico has been able to work with the money that has been provided, it does not need additional funding.

The MCS Advantage president explained that one counterargument he presents is a study by the P.R. Statistics Institute that shows that while the island’s median income is lower than the U.S. average, the average cost of living in Puerto Rico is higher than the U.S. average.

Furthermore, U.S. Congress is aware that Puerto Rico is not at the same level as the States. In the 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service, “Puerto Rico & Healthcare Finance: Frequently Asked Questions,” Annie L. March states, “Three territories are supposed to abide by most of the same Medicaid requirements as the 50 states and the [District of Columbia]. However, it has been documented that these territories do not cover all federally mandated coverage groups or benefits.”

Puerto Rico, as one of the three territories, does not provide the required coverage and benefits. The report also explained that the poverty level for the island’s Medicaid program is lower than the federal poverty line.

For Pando, the importance of addressing the island’s public healthcare funding comes from a historical difference between the U.S. and Puerto Rico economies.

Pando argued that the changes and developments in the U.S. healthcare and insurance systems “emerge from a different private economy that operates in the United States, which influences the healthcare system. In Puerto Rico, it is totally different. In Puerto Rico, the public programs have been the ones that have spurred [the] changes.”

Changes ahead

While the consensus from members of the healthcare sector is that Puerto Rico needs to implement drastic changes, many are worried that changes will not be properly made or won’t actually tackle the maladies that hinder patient services.

One feature of the new Mi Salud model is a switch from eight regions to one, which will cover Puerto Rico in its entirety, including the island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra.

“Our beneficiaries are going to decide what entity is going to administer their benefits, recognizing that, at the end of the day, this selection is going to be circumscribed to the network of providers that each entity [insurance company] has the capacity to administer,” said Yolanda García at the ASPPR convention. García is the deputy executive secretary of the P.R. Health Insurance Administration.

To read the rest of this story, go to Caribbean Business ePaper.




Two indicted for wire, loan application fraud

SAN JUAN – On Feb, 1, a federal grand jury returned a 13-count indictment charging Joel De Jesús-Ocasio and Marangelis Rivera-Colón with wire fraud and false statements in loan applications, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, according to a Justice Department release.

According to the indictment, since 2004, De Jesús-Ocasio was a licensed life insurance broker/agent who worked for National Western Life Insurance Co. In 2010, the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance of Puerto Rico (CIPR) revoked his broker license and as a result, on or about Feb. 14, 2011, National Western Life suspended its contract with him.

Rivera-Colón was not an insurance agent, but De Jesús-Ocasio submitted false insurance license documentation in her name to National Western Life so that De Jesús-Ocasio could continue to sell insurance policies and annuities.

From December 2010 to November 2011, using the fraudulently acquired insurance agent status with National Western for Rivera-Colón, De Jesús-Ocasio sold insurance policies and annuities and obtained $283,718.05 in commissions for these sales. These payments were wire transferred from National Western to a Scotiabank personal account belonging to Rivera-Colón, but controlled and utilized by De Jesús-Ocasio.

The defendants made or caused to be made, material false statements to three different banks to obtain three loans. “To wit, Western Bank for the purposes of obtaining a home loan for a total amount of $304,000.00; to First Bank for the purposes of obtaining an automobile loan for a total amount of $47,231.00 for a Jeep Grand Cherokee; and to Scotiabank for the purposes of obtaining an automobile loan for a total amount of $124,200.00 for the purchase of a Nissan Skyline GTR,” the release reads.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 30 years. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Veronda. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) are in charge of the investigation.




Puerto Rico hurricane aid handling eyed by Justice, US Attorney’s Office

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he has asked the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Juan to investigate complaints posted daily on social media alleging that aid to victims of Hurricane María sent to the island’s municipalities is not reaching those who need it.

He added that he also ordered the National Guard to visit municipalities throughout the island to ensure proper and adequate distribution of food provided by both local and federal governments, as well by private donors.

“We have decided to take a series of steps to avoid the mismanagement of food and the disregard of orders that have been issued,” the governor said during his daily briefing regarding recovery efforts. “Also, I asked the federal Attorney’s Office and [Puerto Rico] Justice [Department] to investigate these complaints to see if indeed this is an issue of mismanagement or what’s going, and if something has been carried out incorrectly, to consider all the legal recourses,” he said.  

Roselló said he ordered Treasury agents to visit municipalities and help mayors to properly account for the aid they receive and distribute.

“We want everyone to be able to have a clear picture of the how, when and where of the food and water [distribution] throughout Puerto Rico,” he said.

Local agencies that distribute aid to hurricane victims will be monitored as well.

Rosselló explained that citizens may file complaints for violations of the orders issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO by its Spanish acronym) on status.pr or by calling 311. He said that to investigate these complaints, additional DACO auditors will be deployed.

Access to medicine

The governor also said the U.S. Health Department authorized access for Puerto Rico to the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program, which will allow people who do not have health insurance to receive medication, treatment and equipment to address their medical conditions. To request access to the program, people should call 855-793-7470.

Outage at Central San Juan

At the conference, the governor confirmed that a fault at substation 6 of the Central San Juan power complex left areas that had regained service in the metropolitan area in the dark again, including the Río Piedras Medical Center and the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. However, by 10 a.m. the system had begun to recover and customers were slowly getting service restored. Before the substation’s collapse, the percentage of customers with electrical power service was 11%. That percentage dropped to 6.8% after the outage.

“This shows the fragility of our system and our call is that when we are working to re-establish our system in collaboration with the federal government and the private sector, we have to keep in mind that we cannot have the same system. Our system is delicate and will fall again. We have to build a robust new system,” the governor said.

In terms of potable water service, Rosselló said more than 60% of customers of the island’s metropolitan, eastern, and southern areas have service, while the northern and western towns were the most affected. In the western region of the island, only 45% have service and in the north, 23%.

The docks in the Puerto Nuevo area were temporarily closed by the Coast Guard, it was announced without further details regarding the reasons or duration of the closure.

Regarding the short and medium term grants requested of the federal government, Rosselló said the administration is working on presenting the required documentation and estimates receiving some $4.6 billion in aid through se federal programs and $5 billion in aid to provide the necessary liquidity maintain the local government in operation starting in November.




Aireko Sentenced for Clean Air Act Violations in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – Aireko Construction Co.’s chief executive, Josen Rossi, said he still does not know whether the company will appeal a federal court’s decision to impose a $1.5 million fine and three-year probation for allegedly mishandling asbestos in the North Tower of Minillas in 2012.

Rossi told Caribbean Business that he did not want to comment further on the matter, but said he would later say what steps the company will follow. Publicly, Rossi had already said he felt the fine was excessive and that a subcontracted firm was responsible for the incident, not Aireko. However, an attorney consulted by CB said there was very little that could be done about the fine because the company negotiated a plea bargain, accepting the findings.

EPA chief reverses decision to delay rules on emissions

The Justice Department said Aireko violated the federal Clean Air Act and failed to comply with the asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants during the “illegal” removal of asbestos-containing materials in May 2012 from the Minillas North Tower in San Juan. As part of a plea agreement with the government, the company was also ordered to pay $172,020 to cover a baseline medical examination and follow up medical examination people exposed to asbestos fibers.

“The Clean Air Act requires that construction companies follow specific protocols designed to safely remove asbestos prior to any renovation or demolition activity, so as not to expose anyone to the risk of deadly respiratory diseases; and AIREKO Construction Company failed to do so by exposing those who worked at Minillas to asbestos materials,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

Saying that exposure can cause cancer and serious respiratory diseases, Special Agent-in-Charge Tyler Amon for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in New York explained that the company “avoided hiring trained and certified asbestos abatement professionals. AIREKO did the work ‘on the cheap’, willfully putting workers and others at risk.”

The Justice Department explained that a subcontractor of Aireko removed asbestos containing material from the ceiling of the ninth floor of Minillas North Tower without following standards required by federal regulation. A “significant portion” of the material was then placed in the trash area behind the building.

The law requires immediately reporting the release of asbestos to the National Response Center (NRC). An EPA investigation showed asbestos throughout the building, and the agency issued a notice to the Puerto Rico Building Authority that then closed the building. Cleanup of the Minillas North Tower took approximately one year. The government identified approximately 450 people exposed to asbestos fibers between the illegal removal and the order to close the building.

Aireko Vice President Edgardo Albino previously pleaded guilty to failing to notify immediately the NRC of the release of asbestos and was sentenced to pay a fine and serve a six-month term of probation.

 




CNN sues Justice Department for copies of Comey memos

WASHINGTON, D.C. — CNN is suing the Justice Department for copies of fired FBI Director James Comey’s personal memos on his interactions with President Donald Trump.

Comey prepared multiple contemporaneous memos documenting conversations with Trump that made him uneasy in the weeks before his May 9 firing.

Former FBI director James Comey listens to the committee chairman at the beginning of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

One memo recounts a February request from Trump, during a private meeting in the Oval Office, that Comey end an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Details from some memos were made public in news media accounts in the days after he was fired, and Comey himself detailed his conversations with Trump at a Senate hearing last week.

The lawsuit said CNN asked for the memos on May 16 in a Freedom of Information Act request, but said the FBI had not turned them over yet even though the Justice Department’s Office of Information had granted a request for expedited processing.

In its complaint, CNN argues that the “urgency and national public importance” in releasing those memos is “unquestionable.”

“As of the date of this filing, the FBI has not provided any substantive response to CNN,” says the lawsuit, which is dated Thursday. “It has not produced any of the requested records.”

The Associated Press has requested the same records. The FBI has responded by saying that it has received that request.




Abrupt dismissals spark turmoil among federal prosecutors

By Sadie Gurman

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered dozens of the country’s top federal prosecutors to clean out their desks, he gave those political appointees a pep talk during a conference call.

The seemingly abrupt about-face Friday left the affected U.S. attorneys scrambling to brief the people left behind and say goodbye to colleagues. It also could have an impact on morale for the career prosecutors who now must pick up the slack, according to some close to the process. The quick exits aren’t expected to have a major impact on ongoing prosecutions, but they gave U.S. attorneys little time to prepare deputies who will take over until successors are named.

“It’s very, very gut-level reaction,” said Steven Schleicher, a former prosecutor who left Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s office in January and was still in contact with people there.

Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Attorney General Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The request for resignations from the 46 prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration wasn’t shocking. It’s fairly customary for the 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their posts once a new president is in office, and many had already left or were making plans for their departures. Sessions himself was asked to resign as a U.S. attorney in a similar purge by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.

But the abrupt nature of the dismissals — done with little explanation and none of the customary thanks for years of service — stunned and angered some of those left behind in offices around the country.

Former prosecutors, friends and colleagues immediately started reaching out to each other on a growing email chain to express condolences and support, commiserating about how unfair they felt the situation was. One U.S. attorney was out of state on Friday and was forced to say goodbye to his office by a blast email, said Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney from North Dakota who was included on the email chain.

Some of those ousted were longtime prosecutors who had spent their careers coming up through the ranks of the Justice Department. John W. Vaudreuil, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, became an assistant U.S. attorney in that office in 1980. Another, Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York, joined the Justice Department in the 1990s.

See also: US Attorney Bharara claims he was fired after refusing to step down

“All of these U.S. attorneys know they serve at the pleasure of the president. No one complains about that,” said John Walsh, an Obama-era appointee as U.S. attorney in Colorado who resigned in July. “But it was handled in a way that was disrespectful to the U.S. attorneys because they were almost treated as though they had done something wrong, when in fact they had not.”

Peter Neronha, who had served since 2009 as U.S. attorney for Rhode Island, said even before Friday he had been preparing for his eventual departure and had written a resignation statement to be released upon his exit. He said he knew his time was limited but had been eager to stay on to see through a major public corruption prosecution and to speak with students about the perils of opioid addiction.

“When that was done, I was going to go anyway — whether I got 24 hours’ notice, or two weeks’ notice, or two months’ notice. It doesn’t really matter,” Neronha said.

Whenever there’s a change in presidential administration, he said, “I think it would be unwise not to be ready.”

It’s not clear why the Justice Department asked the prosecutors to exit so quickly. Sessions gave no warning during the Wednesday conference call in which he articulated his agenda for fighting violent crime.

“The attorney general did not mention on that call, ‘Stay tuned for changes,'” Neronha said.

Much of the public attention since Friday has focused on Preet Bharara, the high-profile Manhattan federal prosecutor who said he was fired despite meeting with then-President-elect Donald Trump and saying he was asked to remain.

See also: Now-fired Preet Bharara proud of ‘absolute independence’

Trump himself did apparently make an attempt to speak with Bharara in advance of the Friday demand for resignations. The president reached out through a secretary on his staff to Bharara a day earlier but the two men never spoke, according to a person told about the conversation but who requested anonymity. The White House on Sunday said the president reached out to thank Bharara for his service and to wish him good luck.

The Justice Department on Friday did say it would not accept the resignations of Dana Boente, now the acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the Maryland prosecutor who’s been nominated for the deputy role.

On Sunday, some Democrats condemned the demand for resignations in highly partisan comments. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, suggested Trump might have fired Bharara to thwart a potential corruption investigation, and believed the move added to a lack of trust of the administration.




Now-fired Preet Bharara proud of ‘absolute independence’

NEW YORK — A defiant Manhattan federal prosecutor, in announcing his firing after he refused to resign, says “absolute independence” was his touchstone for over seven years as he battled public corruption.

Preet Bharara, 48, revealed his firing Saturday on his personal Twitter account. Several hours later, it was learned President Donald Trump had reached out through a secretary on his staff to Bharara on Thursday but the two men never spoke.

The attempted contact — described by a person told about the conversations who requested anonymity — continued the unusual dynamic between Trump and the high profile prosecutor that stretched to Nov. 30, when Bharara emerged from a Trump Tower meeting with Trump to say the then-president-elect had asked him to stay on the job.

The person who requested anonymity because of the talks’ private nature said the secretary late Thursday left a voicemail asking Bharara to call back. Bharara reported the call to Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ chief of staff, Joseph “Jody” Hunt, who agreed it was best that Bharara not speak directly with Trump, the person said. Bharara then called the White House, telling the secretary he had spoken to the Justice Department and it was agreed he and Trump should not speak.

Bharara was informed he was fired by Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, shortly after it became widely known Saturday that he did not intend to step down in response to Sessions’ request that leftover appointees of former President Barack Obama quit.

“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara said in a tweet.

In a statement later, he said: “Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live. One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served.”

He said current Deputy U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim will serve as acting U.S. attorney.

The Justice Department late Saturday confirmed Bharara was no longer U.S. attorney but declined to expound.

See also: US Attorney Bharara claims he was fired after refusing to step down

Meanwhile, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, requested Saturday that the committee receive a summary of probes linked to Trump, whether they touch on his administration, transition, campaign and organization, “so that we can understand the full implications of this weekend’s firings.”

He said he suspected Bharara “could be reviewing a range of potential improper activity emanating from Trump Tower and the Trump campaign, as well as entities with financial ties to the president or the Trump organization.”

Bharara was appointed by Obama in 2009. In frequent public appearances, Bharara has decried public corruption after successfully prosecuting over a dozen state lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Sessions’ decision to include Bharara’s name on the list of 46 resignations of holdovers from the Obama administration surprised Manhattan prosecutors.

While it is customary for a new president to replace virtually all of the 93 U.S. attorneys, it often occurs at a slower pace. Sessions lost his position as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in a similar sweep by then-Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.

Robert Morgenthau, a Democratic U.S. attorney in Manhattan, famously held out for nearly a year after Republican President Richard Nixon’s 1969 inauguration, saying he needed to see some important cases through. He ultimately left in January 1970, after the White House declared he was being replaced and announced a nominee.

U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara speaks with reporters at Trump Tower, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)

U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara speaks with reporters at Trump Tower, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday that he was “troubled to learn” of the resignation demands, particularly of Bharara, since Trump called him in November and assured him he wanted Bharara to remain in place.

Bharara met Trump Nov. 30, saying afterward he’d been asked to remain in the job. Bharara, once lauded on the cover of Time magazine as the man who is “busting Wall Street” after successfully prosecuting dozens of insider traders, has in recent years gone after over a dozen state officeholders, — including New York’s two most powerful lawmakers.

It also recently was revealed that his office is investigating the financial terms of settlements of sexual-harassment claims against Fox News by its employees.

The request from Sessions came as Bharara’s office is prosecuting former associates of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a bribery case. Also, prosecutors recently interviewed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a probe into his fundraising. The mayor’s press secretary has said the mayor is cooperating and that he and his staff had acted appropriately.

The request for resignations came after Trump last weekend claimed Obama tapped his telephones during last year’s election. FBI Director James Comey privately asked the Justice Department to dispute the claim because he believed the allegations were false. Bharara worked for Comey when he was U.S. attorney in Manhattan under President George W. Bush.

Annemarie McAvoy, a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor, said it was not surprising Trump might want Bharara gone since there’s a good chance any subpoena seeking information about Trump campaign links to Russians would go through his office. She said it was also possible Trump wanted “to take out as many people as they can in the prior administration given the leaks and problems that they’re having.”

This report was written by AP reporter Larry Neumeister.




Attorney general seeks resignations of 46 US attorneys

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Sessions said he will recuse himself from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 White House election. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2017. (Susan Walsh/AP)

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking the resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration.

Many of the federal prosecutors who were nominated by President Barack Obama have already left their positions, but the nearly four dozen who stayed on in the first weeks of the Trump administration have been asked to leave “in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Friday.

“Until the new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our U.S. attorney’s offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting and deterring the most violent offenders,” she said in a statement.

Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez, the U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, was also on the list of those asked to resign. She was appointed in June 2006 and nominated by President George W. Bush in January 2007.

By Friday evening, U.S. attorneys around the country – including New Jersey, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Montana – had publicly announced their resignations.

It’s fairly customary for the 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions after a new president is in office, but the departures are not automatic and don’t necessarily happen all at once.

One U.S. attorney appointed by President George W. Bush, Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, remained on the job for the entire Obama administration and is the current nominee for deputy attorney general in the Trump administration.

A Justice Department spokesman, Peter Carr, said President Donald Trump has asked Rosenstein and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who has served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to stay on.

The action was similar to one taken in 1993 by Attorney General Janet Reno, who soon after taking office in the Clinton administration sought the resignations of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President George H.W. Bush. At the time, Sessions was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney for North Dakota in the Obama administration, recalled that President Barack Obama permitted Bush appointees to remain on until their successors had been appointed and confirmed.

“The way the Obama administration handled it was appropriate and respectful and classy,” he said. “This saddens me because many of these people are great public servants and now they are being asked to leave.”

U.S. attorneys are federal prosecutors who are nominated by the president, generally upon the recommendation of a home-state senator, and are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the territories they oversee. They report to Justice Department leadership in Washington, and their priorities are expected to be in line with those of the attorney general.

Sessions took perhaps a veiled swipe at their work in a memo earlier this week, saying that prosecutions for violent crime have been on the decline even as the number of murders has gone up. The demand for resignations seems a way to ensure he will have a team of new federal prosecutors more likely to share his agenda.

Friday’s announcement came months after Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan and one of the most prominent federal prosecutors, said he’d been asked by Trump to stay on and that he intended to. Bharara’s office declined to comment Friday.

Montana’s U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said he received a phone call from Boente telling him “the president has directed this.”

“I think it’s very unprofessional and I’m very disappointed,” he said. “What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are US attorneys need to be gone?”

“I gotta write that (resignation) letter. It’s going to be a one-liner,” he added.




Appeals court won’t put Trump’s travel ban case on hold

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

SEATTLE — A federal appeals court on Monday denied a request from the U.S. Justice Department to put President Donald Trump’s travel ban case on hold until he issues a new executive order.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not give an explanation for its ruling but said it would extend until next week the deadline for the government’s opening brief in its appeal.

A lower court temporarily blocked Trump’s order that banned travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries and paused the U.S. refugee program after Washington state and Minnesota sued to stop it.

Trump tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT” after the 9th Circuit refused to reinstate the ban, but he also has said repeatedly that his administration is working on a new travel ban that addresses some of the constitutional concerns that critics have raised.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked during a briefing Monday why the administration wants to defend the ban in court if it’s writing a new one. He said the government would defend the appeals case “because we were right the first time.”

“While the new executive order attempts to address the court’s concerns that they made, the goal is obviously to maintain the way that we did it the first time because we believe that the law is very clear about giving the president the authority that he needs to protect the country,” Spicer said.

Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on why the agency sought to put the case on hold while the administration is publicly saying it wants to fight it.

The states objected to pausing the appeal, saying in a motion late Friday that it appears the White House and Justice Department are not communicating.

Spicer told reporters last week that the president is “fighting this on both fronts, making sure that we keep evolving through the court system” on the existing executive order while drafting a new one.

The states said “the president has not rescinded the executive order and has not issued a new executive order.” Because Trump has not rescinded the current order, court briefings on the preliminary injunction should proceed, the states said.

The appeals court said the government’s brief is due March 10 instead of Friday.




Fed lawyers deciding next step in Trump travel ban fight

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, right, accompanied by Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael, speaks outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, following a hearing on President Donald Trump's travel ban. Lawyers for the state of Virginia are challenging President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, arguing in federal court that his seven-nation travel ban violates the Constitution and is the result of "animus toward Muslims." (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, right, accompanied by Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael, speaks outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, following a hearing on President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Lawyers for the state of Virginia are challenging President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, arguing in federal court that his seven-nation travel ban violates the Constitution and is the result of “animus toward Muslims.” (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko)

Government lawyers fighting to defend President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration said Friday that “all options” are being considered after a federal appeals court ruled against the president’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

A Justice Department lawyer who spoke at a hearing in Virginia said the administration was weighing whether to challenge a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a temporary block on Trump’s ban, saying it was unlikely to survive a legal challenge.

“We may appeal. We may not,” attorney Erez Reuveni said. “All options are being considered.”

It could appeal the restraining order on Trump’s travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court or it could attempt to remake the case in the district court.

Reuveni was appearing at a hearing before Judge Leonie Brinkema at which the state of Virginia was challenging the ban. The judge did not rule. She noted that “the status quo remains” because of the 9th circuit’s decision and suggested that a well-reasoned ruling would take time and could not be written “overnight.”

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, said Friday’s hearing in a federal court in a Washington, D.C., suburb posed the most significant state challenge yet to Trump’s order. In a statement, he said it “will be the most in-depth examination of the merits of the arguments against the ban.”

Lawyers for Herring, a Democrat, are asking the judge for a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from enforcing that portion of the Jan. 27 executive order that bars anyone from those countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The state is not challenging that portion of Trump’s order suspending entry of refugees for four months.

“If the Commonwealth is successful in securing a preliminary injunction, it would indicate that Virginia is likely to prevail on the merits of its challenge to President Trump’s ban, and it will be a more durable injunction that will last all the way through trial — so potentially weeks or months,” Kelly wrote.

In a court document filed ahead of the hearing, Virginia’s lawyers challenge the constitutionality of the executive order and say there is “overwhelming evidence” that the executive order “resulted from animus toward Muslims.” Virginia also says the state, its residents and its public universities are harmed. One example it gives: university students and faculty from countries named in the executive order who are in the U.S. on work or student visas can’t leave for fear of not being allowed back in.

Until it was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Seattle a week ago, the ban made headlines amid tearful stories of families separated and lives upended. Among them were two Yemeni brothers whose family sued in Virginia before the brothers, both green card holders, were allowed back into the country. The federal government has since said green card holders will not be barred from re-entering the U.S.

In the specific Virginia challenge, lawyers for the federal government wrote in a court filing opposing a preliminary injunction that Virginia doesn’t have the right to challenge the ban — and that the court doesn’t have the power to review the president’s executive order.

“Judicial second-guessing of the President’s determination that a temporary suspension of entry of certain classes of aliens was necessary at this time to protect national security would constitute an impermissible intrusion” on his constitutional authority, lawyers Dennis Barghaan and Reuveni wrote.

Even if Virginia’s challenge is allowed to proceed, a preliminary injunction is not warranted, the U.S. government lawyers wrote.