Jim Letten closed up shop Tuesday, clearing out his desk on the last day before his resignation took effect as the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Letten, who resigned after top prosecutors in his office were revealed to be making anonymous online comments about targets of federal investigations, told WWL-TV in New Orleans that some may see his abrupt exit fitting of Louisiana’s unpredictability.
“We have the weirdest problems, the strangest challenges, the damnedest struggles,” Letten said. “So, maybe, just maybe, this event is consistent with that.”
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The irony rings, as Letten made his name on busting corrupt politicians. In 2000, he successfully prosecuted former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards (D) on racketeering charges. Letten was tapped to lead the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans the next year by President George W. Bush.
His office rooted out corruption in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, overseeing cases against former New Orleans police officers involved in the fatal shooting of citizens on the city’s Danziger Bridge and subsequent cover up.
“I think we are no longer seen, or known, or perceived as this backwater haven for corruption, where businesses go and get their lunch eaten, where they’re shaken down and they have nowhere to go,” Letten said. “We’ve dispelled that.”
Letten told WWL-TV that he’ll be available to newly installed interim U.S. Attorney Dana Boente, who was called in by Justice Department headquarters from his post as First Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. “I’m going to be available to speak to him, but I’m pretty much not going to be on site or engaged in the department after tomorrow,” Letten said. The New Orleans native originally indicated he’d be sticking around the office longer to help Boente transition.
WWL-TV noted that Letten’s final day in the office was “wrapped up quickly” as “Boente reportedly took lunch at his desk and told Letten he could handle things beyond that.”
In his exit interview with the TV station, the 28-year Justice Department veteran vaguely touched on the scandal that blew up in his office this year. Former longtime Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann both admitted to posting disparaging comments online at nola.com about ongoing federal probes. Perricone resigned and Mann has been demoted. (Read Main Justice’s full recounting of the scandal here.) Letten, well-liked as U.S. Attorney, touched on the betrayals.
“Have I always been the vulnerable sort because I like to default to trust? Maybe so,” Letten said. “That’s what I’m not going to change….Look we’ve been disappointed, I’ve been disappointed, a million times. Look, we all get disappointed right? But the rewards are so great. Because I am inclined to trust you, whoever you are, if I get to work with you. Unless and until you prove me wrong.”
Letten also said he’s taking time off to spend time with his family over the holidays. In the meantime, he’ll be looking into what his next steps are professionally.