The NYT reports:
The Justice Department is removing several United States attorneys from their jobs, among them Carol C. Lam, the top federal prosecutor in San Diego, who led the corruption prosecution of former Representative Randy Cunningham.
Justice Department officials said Tuesday that Ms. Lam’s dismissal had nothing to do with the prosecution of Mr. Cunningham, Republican of California, but was based on her overall record in prosecuting firearms violations and crimes along the California border with Mexico.
But Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said that Ms. Lam and Kevin V. Ryan, the United States attorney from San Francisco, among others, were being pushed out “without cause.” Mr. Ryan’s office has been investigating the backdating of stock options granted to corporate executives.
Ms. Feinstein said on the Senate floor on Tuesday that Ms. Lam, appointed in 2002, was “a straight shooter and a good prosecutor.”
“To my knowledge,” Ms. Feinstein said, “there are no allegations of misconduct having to do with Carol Lam. She is a distinguished former judge. Rather, the only explanation I have seen are concerns that were expressed about prioritizing corruption cases over smuggling and gun cases.”
Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from San Diego County who has criticized Ms. Lam’s record on illegal immigration, called the Cunningham prosecution “a credit to her leadership and her office” in a statement on Tuesday, but repeated his call for border enforcement and said her replacement “will bring new ideas and new strategies that will benefit our area.”
It is not clear how many United States attorneys are being forced out. Ms. Feinstein said the number was 5 to 10; Justice Department officials said the number was lower but would not provide a specific number.
“We in no way politicize these decisions,” Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Other Justice Department officials said some prosecutors were being dismissed and others were leaving voluntarily.
The Justice Department sent a letter defending its actions on Tuesday to Ms. Feinstein and Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “That on occasion in an organization as large as the Justice Department some United States attorneys are removed or are asked or encouraged to resign, should come as no surprise,” the letter said. It added that no action had been taken against United States attorneys “to retaliate against them or interfere with or inappropriately influence a particular investigation, criminal prosecution or civil case.”
Ms. Feinstein said in her statement that she knew of seven United States attorneys who had been dismissed without cause.
Those the Justice Department officials said had been asked to leave were Ms. Lam, Mr. Ryan, Daniel G. Bogden of Nevada, David C. Iglesias of New Mexico and H. E. Cummins III of Arkansas. Others who are said to be stepping down are Paul K. Charlton of Arizona and John McKay of Washington State. All were appointed by President Bush.
Ms. Feinstein noted that the two Arkansas senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both Democrats, had raised concerns about Mr. Cummins’s replacement, J. Timothy Griffin, who was research director for the Republican National Committee. Justice Department officials said Mr. Griffin had a strong background as a military and civilian prosecutor.
The officials said that most of those being removed were being replaced based on a review of their performance in carrying out Mr. Gonzales’s violent crime priorities.
These officials sought to minimize the significance of the action. They said there were frequently changes in the ranks of United States attorneys after an election and that there were often 10 to 15 vacancies among the 93 posts around the country. But as presidential appointees, United States attorneys are rarely removed without a specific reason.
Ms. Feinstein said the department might be removing the prosecutors to take advantage of a little-noticed provision in the 2006 reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act that expanded its authority to make indefinite interim appointments.
"Little-noticed provision"? Didn't anybody read the Patriot Act before they voted for it? Didn't Feinstein read it before she voted for it? This provision related directed to her role on the Judiciary Committee - How could she have imagined it would be a good idea?
Previously, a federal judge would appoint an interim United States attorney to serve until the Senate confirmed the president’s nominee. Now the attorney general can nominate someone to serve without confirmation for the remainder of Mr. Bush’s term. Ms. Feinstein, Mr. Pryor and Mr. Leahy have introduced legislation to restore the role of naming interim prosecutors to the judiciary.
Justice Department officials said that there was no intention to use the law to skirt the confirmation process now that the Senate is in Democratic hands, and that the administration would submit nominees for Senate confirmation.
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