BALTIMORE — With the inauguration of a new president on Jan. 20, Maryland’s top federal prosecutor must decide if he will seek to become a political anomaly like his predecessor — a Republican U.S. attorney who stays on in a Democratic administration.
Robert K. Hur is a 2017 appointee of Republican President Donald Trump who fought violent crime in Baltimore and led criminal cases against former Mayor Catherine Pugh and two state delegates.
Hur will decide “whether he wishes to remain, or what other aspirations he has in his professional life,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who would review U.S. attorney candidates if there is a vacancy and make recommendations to the White House.
As political appointees, the nation’s U.S. attorneys almost always depart upon the arrival of a new president, particularly one of the rival political party. Within two months of taking office in 2017, Trump had forced out any U.S. attorneys remaining from the administration of Democrat Barack Obama.
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden hasn’t yet signaled his intentions nor nominated an attorney general to head the Justice Department.
“A lot of incoming administrations like to appoint people themselves,” said Democratic Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen. “Sen. Cardin and I will be consulting with the Biden administration as to what their thinking is. I do think Rob Hur has done a good job.”
The soft-spoken Hur, 47, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that it would be premature to discuss his intentions. He said only that he is proud of his colleagues in the office and that “it has just been a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as U.S. attorney.”
Cardin suggested he already knows Hur’s decision but that it would — for now — remain a political secret.
The senator said he has had “some conversations” about Hur’s future — he did not say with whom.
“I do not believe I can publicly release the essence of those. I do believe I understand his intentions and his availability. And based upon that we will proceed — if we need to — to fill that vacancy,” Cardin said.
It can take weeks or even months for new administrations to replace U.S. attorneys.
Legal analysts say there would be no shortage of eager candidates if Hur leaves.
“It’s a plum job,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias. He said former U.S. attorneys “tend to go back into bigger firms and use their expertise” and that some venture into politics.
Officials on the Biden transition team had no comment this week.
Rod Rosenstein, whom Hur succeeded as the state’s top federal law enforcement officer, was one of the only U.S. attorneys appointed by Republican President George W. Bush to be kept on by the Obama administration. Rosenstein was the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country when Trump elevated him in 2017 to the No. 2 post in the Justice Department, where Hur was his top aide.
“I do believe I understand his intentions and his availability. And based upon that we will proceed — if we need to — to fill that vacancy,”
“Out of 93 U.S. attorneys, you might have five or so who remain, if they want to and the president wants them,” Tobias said. “It’s situation specific. Cardin is the one who knows best what’s going to happen as the senior senator — unless Biden and his folks have something in mind.”
In an era of extreme political partisanship in Washington, Hur and Rosenstein are “both low-key, very businesslike, very professional, very nonpartisan,” Cardin said. “They work very well with state and local law enforcement. They set the priority on reducing violence in Baltimore, working on gang activities. It’s really been a trust that doesn’t always exist between the different levels of government.”
Among those prosecuted by Hur’s office are Pugh, who pleaded guilty in 2019 to fraud charges related to the “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal; former Del. Cheryl Glenn of Baltimore, who acknowledged a year ago that she received bribes to carry out political favors; and former Del. Tawanna P. Gaines of Prince George’s County, who resigned in 2019 just before pleading guilty to using campaign funds for personal purposes.
All are Democrats, but Hur said in the recent interview with The Baltimore Sun that “politics played absolutely no role in any of those matters. We follow facts and evidence wherever they may lead.”
Cardin, who has accused Trump of politicizing the Justice Department for his own ends, said: “We have total confidence (Hur) was operating without political interference from Washington.”
The priorities and crime reduction strategies of the U.S. attorney are important to Baltimore, which eclipsed 300 homicides in 2020 for the sixth consecutive year and recorded more than 1,000 total shootings.
In Hur, who oversees 98 assistant U.S. attorneys and 73 support personnel, the city has an ally who “is very much engaged,” said Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, a Democrat.
“He’s gone out into the community — me, him and the (Baltimore police) commissioner — and engaged citizens,” Mosby said. “I’ve taken a holistic approach to prosecutions since I started. It’s kind of refreshing to have a partner that’s taking that same approach on the federal level.”
Hur said his office includes a staff member trying to prevent people coming out of prison from getting “thrown back out into a world with absolutely no preparation or ideas or prospects.”
Mosby also noted Hur’s periodic appearances on WOLB-AM in which he speaks directly to Baltimoreans. In September 2019, for instance, he joined talk show host Larry Young to describe a “strike force” partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement officials targeting drug gangs and their suppliers. Baltimore was the 15th city to get such a strike force.
“We are moving in together,” Hur told listeners, regarding the different agencies. “I wish it could have happened sooner, but I’m glad it’s happening now.”
Hur’s office has also prosecuted corrupt corrections officials and police officers and focused on MS-13, which he has called “one of the most violent and ruthless gangs on the streets.”
Hur, who has a Stanford law degree, clerked for Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist and Judge Alex Kozinski in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
A Montgomery County resident, he was a longtime assistant U.S. attorney handling financial and regulatory offenses. Before that, he worked in the Justice Department as counsel to the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, overseeing counterterrorism, corporate fraud and appellate issues.
Hur also worked two stints for the law firm of King & Spalding in Washington. During the first, he was co-author of two papers on white-collar crime with Christopher A. Wray, who is now FBI director.
In 2016, he defended Vascular Solutions Inc., a medical device manufacturer accused in a federal indictment of a deceptive sales campaign. The firm was acquitted of all charges.
(Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.)