Donald Trump complained on Twitter about someone who still works for the Justice Department.

How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!

Isn't the Justice Department part of the executive branch? Obama has fired generals and Trump fired an FBI director, so can't the President just fire the guy he is complaining about?

  1. Is the Justice Department part of the executive branch?
  2. Can Donald Trump fire Bruce Ohr?
  • technically speaking, most likely, he probably cannot as per labour policies. The person's immediate direct supervisor probably has to fire them.
    – user4012
    Aug 30, 2018 at 17:17
  • He could pressure the Attorney General to do it.
    – Max
    Aug 30, 2018 at 17:18
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    With respect to Obama firing Generals, Generals in the U.S. Military are political positions.
    – hszmv
    Aug 30, 2018 at 19:32
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    @user4012 the labor laws began to cover employees of the executive branch because of an agreement between fmr President Carter and Congress. Whatever recourse employees of the executive branch may have, it is against their immediate supervisors rather than against the President himself. These labor rules continue to be in effect because a President conceded to them. Any president can withdraw this concession unilaterally. And no president is subject to those rules himself. The only employee of the executive branch a President cannot fire is the Vice President.
    – grovkin
    Sep 19, 2018 at 17:25

1 Answer 1


In General, No

Not all federal executive employees can be fired by the President. Historically, they used to be able to. However, this led to a spoils system in which new Presidents would fire large portions of the executive branch and replace them with their own supporters.

In 1833 the Civil Service Act was passed to limit this kind of behavior (the act was revised extensively in the 1970's). This report to Congress describes limitations on firing civil servants (see pg. 27). Employees may be fired for performance or behavior-related reasons, but not for non-employment related reasons. There is an appeals process to a third-party for disputes over personnel actions.

The Special Position of the Dept. of Justice

The Department of Justice is also in a special position. There is a lot of media coverage on the subject. Time published this article summarizing the President's relationship to Department of Justice officials here, which is based on Dr. Harriger (prof. of political science at Wake Forest). The high-level synopsis is that since Departmen of Justice investigators have a Constitutional duty to ensure that the law is executed correctly, they cannot be fired by the President for doing that job.

Of course, what is allowed in practice will be a highly political (as well as legal) situation.

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    Yeah. That sentence is supposed to mean that the President can't fire anyone in the executive branch (that is, for the set of executive branch employees there exist employees he can't fire). I'll edit the wording. Aug 30, 2018 at 17:52
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    This answer is incorrect, The president can indeed fire anyone in the executive branch including the special prosecutor (as stated in the article). of course the pendleton act does protect firings from certain protected positions, but the act also states that the president can designate which positions are protected, furthermore, the president can eliminate any position in the executive branch as no longer required. That being said, in practice, any firings become political because impeachment is political. Basically, president does something people don't like, get impeached Aug 30, 2018 at 19:53
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    @FrankCedeno I'd be interested in seeing that comment expanded to an answer. I've always heard it said that the only way the special prosecutor could be fired was with a "Saturday Night Massacre" style firing spree -- I'd be interested in seeing evidence to the contrary
    – divibisan
    Aug 30, 2018 at 20:10
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    @FrankCedeno I'd agree with divibisan that your comment is worth being it's own answer. I'm leaving this up because it matches what I'm reading in summaries by people who know more about this than I do. Aug 30, 2018 at 21:07
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    @divibisan "Saturday Night Massacre" was during the time when special prosecutor law was in effect. The last special prosecutor was Ken Star and the law was not renewed and was allowed to expire (in 1999 I think) because Ken Star's investigation was seen as an unchecked power. There are various "special counsels" who can be appointed by either AG, President or Congress, but these special counsels' mandate is controlled, and maybe modified, by those who empower them. They only have independence as long as their mandate allows it.
    – grovkin
    Sep 19, 2018 at 17:33

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