Biden Acting Attorney General approved reassignment of prosecutor who opposed family separations

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s choice to temporarily lead the Justice Department, Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson signed the 2017 decision to remove a prosecutor from office after senior prosecutors complained he did not adequately prosecute migrant parents separated from their children, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.

Wilkinson, who previously served as deputy chief of staff to former Attorney General Eric Holder, was not appointed by Trump when he received complaints about Joshua Stern, a lawyer seconded to the West District of Texas in 2017. He handled personnel matters as Director of the Executive Office of US Lawyers – a position he was appointed by Holder in 2014.

In a note sent to Wilkinson on September 11, 2017, Stern’s superiors said he was not performing his duties properly because he was “ very concerned ” about cases in which he had been asked to pursue a immigrant parent who had been separated and had not done so. know where their child is.

“He has voiced repeated concerns about the separation of children from their parents,” Stern’s note said.

The parents in question had been separated from their children in the El Paso area in what is now recognized as a pilot program for the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018, which intentionally separated more than 3,000 migrant families.

Wilkinson’s receipt of the memo allegedly informed him that families were being separated in El Paso long before the existence of the pilot program became public knowledge or even began to circulate in memos among officials of Trump in Washington.

“Stern seemed particularly troubled that our office pursued these cases,” the memo reads. “He commented that our lawsuits resulted in the separation of the children from their parents as the parents often fled violence in their home country. He informed us that he had contacted the agencies so that he could assist the defense in the process of locating the accused’s children. “

The note was sent in response to a Sept. 8 request from Wilkinson for more details on Stern after a call Wilkinson had with Stern boss, then U.S. District Attorney for the West Texas District, Richard L. Durbin, according to an internal email reviewed by NBC News.

The memo accompanied an official letter from Durbin to Wilkinson, asking him “if there is a way to end the relationship. [with Stern] sooner would probably be better for everyone involved.

In that letter, Durbin said that Stern had “sympathies [that] seem to be lying with the aliens we are chasing. Durbin also said Stern was “reprimanded at least twice” for being late for work and was “somewhat difficult to deal with.”

On September 20, nine days after Durbin’s letter to Wilkinson, Wilkinson sent the appropriate documents to relieve Stern of his details earlier, according to a document reviewed by NBC News. Wilkinson’s office had to give permission before Stern could be removed from his post early and on short notice and reassigned to another position in the federal government.

Wilkinson, who is temporarily serving as Acting Attorney General until Biden’s candidate for Attorney General Merrick Garland is confirmed, has been widely seen as a longtime public servant whose low profile has him. prevented from handling anything that could be considered controversial or a conflict of interest for the incoming administration.

Robert M.
Robert M.

A current Justice Department spokeswoman said Wilkinson’s office at the time of Stern’s reassignment, the executive office of US lawyers, “plays an administrative role related to the associated paperwork but does not make decisions on assignments ”concerning detailed personnel.

“The department cannot comment on specific personnel issues. Regarding the process of assigning component details to US attorneys’ offices, the decision whether or not to prosecute a detail lies between the lender and receiver components, ”the spokesperson said.

The Guardian first reported Stern’s reassignment, and part of Wilkinson’s involvement in it, in September 2020. A White House spokesperson declined to say whether Biden’s transition team was aware of Wilkinson’s role in Stern’s reassignment or came across reports from The Guardian during the audit. Wilkinson for the post.

Durbin declined to comment on his requests for an early reassignment of Stern or his communications with Wilkinson. Stern did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden said he is committed to reuniting migrant families separated by the Trump administration and is expected to announce a task force to do so in the coming days. Biden said he would leave it to his Justice Department to determine whether officials involved in the policy committed criminal behavior.

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