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U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz Announces Her Resignation09:55
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U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz responds to questions during a news conference in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz responds to questions during a news conference in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz announced that she will be stepping down as the state's top federal prosecutor.

The move is not unexpected. She will officially leave office Jan. 13, a week before Republican Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

Ortiz is known for several high-profile cases, including Aaron Swartz, former State House Speaker Sal DiMasi, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.

Guest

Michael Sullivan, partner at The Ashcroft Law Firm and former U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts.

Interview Highlights

On the process for U.S. attorneys to resign

"The [current] president asks all of his presidential appointees to tender letters of resignation, effective the date of the incoming president's swearing in, which is obviously Jan. 20.

"All the presidential appointees have available for the incoming administration letters of resignation, and then the president acts on those letters of resignation — in some instances, on that specific date, the 20th of January, in some cases they hold the letter of resignation for a period of time during the course of a transition.

"[Ortiz's resignation] is not unusual at all. Obviously Carmen Ortiz is stepping down in advance of the new administration, but it's not unusual. Often U.S. attorneys anticipate their resignation either around the date of the incoming administration or shortly thereafter. I would say it's a process. I was, I think, confirmed a couple of days after 9/11 in 2001, so the process does take several months to get the new U.S. attorney in place."

On who acts as U.S. attorney in the interim

"In most instances it would fall to the first assistant U.S. attorney that is working on behalf of the current U.S. attorney. In this particular case, it would be Bill Weinreb, who's the first assistant U.S. attorney.

"Prior to me becoming U.S. attorney, Jim Farmer — who was then the criminal chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office, but the highest ranking assistant U.S. attorney --  served as the acting U.S. attorney after Don Stern resigned, who was my predecessor."

On who recommends nominees to the president, like Ortiz was recommended by U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry

"Typically works ... in those states in which there's a sitting U.S. senator that is of the same party as the executive branch [they make recommendations.]

"In this particular case, there isn't [a sitting U.S. senator of the same party as PEOTUS], which is very similar to my case. Because when I got nominated ... we didn't have a sitting Republican U.S. senator, but we had a sitting Republican governor and the White House at this point in time, solicited recommendations from then the late Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci.

"The unusual fact of here is that Gov. Charlie Baker indicated that he was not supportive of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump so I don't know what, if anything, impact that might have in terms of where the administration will be soliciting or vetting names from. I'm confident that Governor Baker will have at least an opportunity to weigh in on the process."

On Ortiz's legacy

"The U.S. attorney is a challenging position and if you're looking to make friends, I would suggest you not consider taking on the responsibilities as U.S. attorney because oftentimes you have to take on matters against, in some instances, very popular people, popular companies, or take on some controversial matters. I think at the end of the day as long as you've been faithful to your oath and you can look yourself in the mirror and realize you've done the best you possibly could in the circumstances, you should leave feeling very good.

"I'm sure that there'll be critics out there that believe that Carmen Ortiz overreached in some instances. I'm confident that there were critics that had similar viewpoints concerning my services as U.S. attorney as well.

"I think at the end of the day, Carmen will look back and say that she had the opportunity to do some very interesting, some very challenging, and some very rewarding things. I suspect she'll look back and wish that she had another opportunity on a few of them, and maybe she would've done them differently had she had another opportunity."

Correction: An earlier version of this post said Swartz was convicted. We regret the error.

This segment aired on December 21, 2016.

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