Jody Hunt, who leads the civil division at the Justice Department, abruptly announced his impending resignation on Tuesday, the same day that he formally signed onto a lawsuit trying to block the publication of a memoir from John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser. The civil division is tasked with defending the government and members of the government in court; as its head, Hunt has been involved in an array of legal fights on behalf of the administration, including the court battles over the president’s push to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, an idea that Trump eventually abandoned.
The head of the Justice Department's civil division announced his resignation, telling his staff in an email obtained by CNN that he would be exiting on July 3 https://t.co/JoD3VAvQPg
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) June 17, 2020
It’s unclear precisely why Hunt is stepping away from the Justice Department; his resignation takes effect on July 3, CNN reports, while also explaining that political appointees in the federal government frequently resign ahead of a presidential election. Perhaps Hunt worries about the Trump team’s prospects in that presidential election. Besides his resignation, the Justice Department has also seen a couple of other high-profile resignations recently, including from Solicitor General Noel Francisco, whose job is to defend the administration’s side in U.S. Supreme Court cases.
‘In an email obtained by CNN, Jody Hunt told his division that he would be exiting on July 3. He joins a list of senior Justice Department officials who are leaving their posts ahead of the election, as is typical for many political appointees in the department. CNN reported earlier this month that the head of the criminal division and the solicitor general were both planning to step down. Hunt’s division defended the administration’s policies in court, including in several headline-grabbing cases, like the fight over congressional subpoenas.’
Before his role at the top of the civil division at the Justice Department — a role that requires confirmation by the Senate, which has been controlled by a Republican majority for the entirety of Trump’s presidency — Hunt served as chief of staff for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has since left the administration and had a very public falling out with the president. Trump wanted Sessions to have kept closer control of the Russia investigation, and the president has endorsed Sessions’s opponent in an ongoing Republican Senate primary that the former attorney general is running in.
It’s unclear if the lawsuit over Bolton’s book will be resolved by the time Hunt steps aside on July 3. The book is currently scheduled for publication on June 23, but the Trump administration alleges that there is classified information in the manuscript. Bolton’s side counters that they’ve already gone through a review process to deal with classified information and the latest antagonism from the Trump team constitutes censorship.
Bolton lawyer Chuck Cooper said:
‘This last-minute allegation came after an intensive four-month review, after weeks of silence from the White House, and… after press reports alerted the White House that Mr. Bolton’s book would be published on June 23. This is a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton, in violation of his constitutional right to speak on matters of the utmost public import. This attempt will not succeed, and Mr. Bolton’s book will be published June 23.’
Trump has called the book “inappropriate” and suggested that all conversations with him are classified — which isn’t how classification tends to actually work.