View Full Version : Bush Administration Dismisses Seven Federal Prosecutors

02-07-2007, 08:48 AM
Bush administration dismisses seven federal prosecutors


By Karoun Demirjian
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - A year ago, Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, Calif., was fielding accolades for her successful prosecution of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the California congressman who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and corruption and was sent to prison for more than eight years.

Now, however, she is one of seven federal prosecutors that the Bush administration has removed from office in recent weeks, most for unspecified reasons, as was the case with Lam. The dismissals are unusual and that has prompted several Democratic senators to accuse the White House of taking undue aim at U.S. prosecutors, either to make way for up-and-coming Republicans or even to punish those who aggressively prosecuted friends of the administration.

The Department of Justice has strongly denied the allegations, but also has refused to publicly give any reasons for the dismissals.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty defended the firings Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, saying, "U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President - they come and go for lots of reasons. . . . We don't really believe we are obligated to set forth a reason or cause."

The nation's 94 U.S. attorneys, the chief federal prosecutors in their respective cities or geographic regions, are generally appointed at the beginning of a president's term, and barring serious misconduct, serve until the end of his tenure or until they choose to leave voluntarily.

The current round of removals has attracted Democratic attention because of a little-noticed measure that was slipped into the Patriot Act Reauthorization last year allowing the White House to circumvent the Senate approval process for U.S. attorneys by making open-ended interim appointments.

Since President Bush signed the bill, about a dozen U.S. attorneys have resigned. McNulty said at least seven of the resignations were sought by Justice. But he said only the resignation of H.E. Cummins III of Little Rock, Ark. was sought without a specific job performance-related cause. Cummins was replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, a military prosecutor and former assistant to White House political operative Karl Rove.

McNulty told the committee that the administration is still consulting senators to identify the best candidates in their respective states and fully intends to send the prosecutors' replacements to the Senate for confirmation. But suspicious Judiciary Committee members said they plan to vote Thursday to rescind the Patriot Act provision that allows the administration to appoint interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., told the committee, "I am convinced that the administration and future administrations will bypass the Senate if the law isn't changed." He said he doubted that in the seven months since Cummins had first been asked to step down that the administration couldn't send an official nominee to the Senate for confirmation. "This is larger than any party affiliation or any single appointment."

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., bristled at allegations that he had played any part in crafting the clause on interim appointments in the Patriot Act and agreed to cooperate to revert the law on U.S. attorney appointments back to its pre-2006 state. In the earlier law, interim terms expire after 120 days, and if no replacement can be nominated and confirmed in that time, the local federal court names a replacement.

But McNulty said that arrangement has caused problems in the past, such as in South Dakota in 2005, when a U.S. district judge's appointee for interim U.S. attorney was overruled by the Justice Department in favor of a candidate it selected, precipitating a legal dispute.

But several senators said that the alternative in the Patriot Act, possibly cutting them entirely out of the appointment process, is unacceptable.

"The Patriot Act should not have been amended," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sponsored the measure to revise the law. "I do not believe anyone in this committee knew it was in the law - no Republican, no Democrat."

Not all members of the Judiciary Committee voiced concern about the firings. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said, "For seven out of 94 to be asked to step down is not that big a deal to me. My personal opinion is that the Department of Justice is far too reticent in reviewing U.S. attorneys that do not perform."

02-07-2007, 08:08 PM
Damn, thats a serious story.