Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy

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Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy
( )
G. W. Bush administration officials involved
Involved administration officials who resigned
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
110th Congress
U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary
110th Congress

The dismissal of U.S. Attorneys controversy was initiated by the midterm dismissal of seven United States Attorneys on December 7, 2006, by the George W. Bush administration's Department of Justice. Congressional investigations focused on whether the Department of Justice and the White House were using the U.S. Attorney positions for political advantage. Allegations were that some of the attorneys were targeted for dismissal to impede investigations of Republican politicians or that some were targeted for their failure to initiate investigations that would damage Democratic politicians or hamper Democratic-leaning voters.[1][2] The U.S. attorneys were replaced with interim appointees, under provisions in the 2005 USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization.[3][4][5][6][7]

A subsequent report by the Justice Department Inspector General in October 2008 found that the process used to fire the first seven attorneys and two others dismissed around the same time was "arbitrary", "fundamentally flawed", and "raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecution decisions".[8] In July 2010, the Department of Justice prosecutors closed the two-year investigation without filing charges after determining that the firing was inappropriately political, but not criminal, saying "Evidence did not demonstrate that any prosecutable criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of David Iglesias. The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias."[9]

Issues in brief[edit]

By tradition, U.S. Attorneys are replaced only at the start of a new White House administration. U.S. Attorneys hold a "political" office, and therefore they are considered to "serve at the pleasure of the President." At the beginning of a new presidential administration, it is traditional for all 93 U.S. Attorneys to submit a letter of resignation. When a new President is from a different political party, almost all of the resignations will be eventually accepted.[10] The attorneys are then replaced by new political appointees, typically from the new President's party.[11][11][12]

U.S. Senators were concerned about a little-noticed provision in the re-authorization of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2006 that eliminated the 120-day term limit on interim appointments of U.S. Attorneys made by the United States Attorney General to fill vacancies. The law permitted the Attorney General to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys without a term limit in office, and avoid a confirming vote by the Senate. The change gave the Attorney General greater appointment powers than the President, since the President's U.S. Attorney appointees are required to be confirmed by the Senate; the law undermined the confirmation authority of the Senate.[13] The U.S. Senate was concerned that, in dismissing the U.S. Attorneys, the administration planned to fill the vacancies with its own choices, thus bypassing Senate confirmation and the traditional consultation with Senators in the selection process. Congress rescinded the provision on June 14, 2007.[14][15][16]

Administration rationale unclear[edit]

The reasons for the dismissal of each individual U.S. Attorney were unclear. Two suggested motivations were that the administration wanted to make room for U.S. Attorneys who would be more sympathetic to the administration's political agenda, and the administration wanted to advance the careers of promising conservatives.[1][17][18] Critics said that the attorneys were fired for failing to prosecute Democratic politicians, for failing to prosecute claims of election fraud that would hamper Democratic voter registration, as retribution for prosecuting Republican politicians, or for failing to pursue adult obscenity prosecutions.[19] The administration and its supporters said that the attorneys were dismissed for job-performance reasons "related to policy, priorities and management", and that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President.[20] However, at least six attorneys had recently received positive evaluations of their performance from the Department of Justice.[21] In September 2008, the Department of Justice Inspector General's investigation concluded that the dismissals were politically motivated and improper.[8]

Administration testimony contradicted by documents[edit]

Members of Congress investigating the dismissals found that sworn testimony from Department of Justice officials appeared to be contradicted by internal Department memoranda and e-mail, and that possibly Congress was deliberately misled. The White House role in the dismissals remained unclear despite hours of testimony by Attorney General Gonzales and senior Department of Justice staff in congressional committee hearings.[22][23] The Bush administration issued changing and contradictory statements about the timeline of the planning of the firings, persons who ordered the firings, and reasons for the firings.[24][25][26][27] The origin and evolution of the list of attorneys to be dismissed remained unclear.[28][29][30][31] In response the Inspector General's report in September 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a special prosecutor to determine if administration officials had perjured themselves in testimony to Congress.[32]

Politicization of hiring at the Department of Justice[edit]

Attorney General Gonzales, in a confidential order dated March 1, 2006, not published in the Federal Register, formally delegated authority to senior DOJ staff Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson to hire and dismiss political appointees and some civil service positions.[33][34] On May 2, 2007, the Department of Justice announced two separate investigations into hirings conducted by Goodling: one by the department's Inspector General, and a second by the Office of Professional Responsibility.[23] In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, on May 23, 2007, Goodling stated that she had "crossed the line" and broken civil service laws regulating hiring for civil service positions, and had improperly weighed political factors in assessing applicants.[35]

According to a January 2009 Justice Department report, investigators found that Bradley Schlozman, as interim head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, "favored applicants with conservative political or ideological affiliations and disfavored applicants with civil rights or human rights experience whom he considered to be overly liberal". The positions under consideration were not political, but career, for which the political and ideological views of candidates are not to be considered, according to federal law and guidelines.[36]

In a letter of May 30, 2007, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and Counsel for the Office of Professional Responsibility confirmed that they were expanding their investigation beyond "the removals of United States Attorneys" to include "DOJ hiring and personnel decisions" by Monica Goodling and other Justice Department employees.[37][38]

Dismissed attorneys and elections[edit]

The controversy surrounding the U.S. Attorneys dismissals was often linked to elections or voter-fraud issues. Allegations were that some of the U.S. Attorneys were dismissed for failing to instigate investigations damaging to Democratic politicians, or for failing to more aggressively pursue voter-fraud cases.[2][39] Such allegations were made by some of the dismissed U.S. Attorneys themselves to suggest reasons they may have been dismissed.[40] The background to the allegations is the recent tendency for elections in parts of the United States to be very close; an election outcome can be affected by an announced investigation of a politician. It is explicit policy of the Department of Justice to avoid bringing voter-related cases during an election for this reason.[41] By 2006, the pursuit of voter fraud cases was an acknowledged political strategy of the Republican Party, although most had little substance.[42] The use of U.S. Attorneys for partisan purposes is highly improper, particularly given the strong non-partisan traditions of the U.S. Attorneys. In September 2008, the Inspector General for the Department of Justice concluded that some of the dismissals were motivated by the refusal of some of the U.S. Attorneys to prosecute voter fraud cases during the 2006 election cycle.[8]

Replacement of the U.S. Attorneys[edit]

Harriet Miers
Karl Rove

Initial planning[edit]

On January 6, 2005, Colin Newman, an assistant in the White House counsels office, wrote to David Leitch stating, "Karl Rove stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) 'how we planned to proceed regarding U.S. Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them or selectively replace them, etc.'". The email was then forwarded to Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.[43][44]

In reply, Kyle Sampson, then Department of Justice counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, wrote that it would be "weird to ask them to leave before completing at least a 4-year term", that they "would like to replace 15–20 percent of the current U.S. Attorneys" and that the rest "are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc."[44]

In March 2005, Sampson ...

"came up with a checklist. He rated each of the U.S. Attorneys with criteria that appeared to value political allegiance as much as job performance. He recommended retaining 'strong U.S. Attorneys who have... exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General.' He suggested 'removing weak U.S. Attorneys who have... chafed against Administration initiatives'".[45]

Sampson wrote in January 2006 to Miers that he recommended that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys, and that by limiting the number of attorneys "targeted for removal and replacement" it would "mitigat[e] the shock to the system that would result from an across-the-board firing".[46]

On February 12, 2006, Monica Goodling sent a spreadsheet of each U.S. Attorney's political activities and memberships in conservative political groups, in an email to senior Administration officials, with the comment "This is the chart that the AG requested".[47]

Sampson strongly urged using changes to the law governing U.S. Attorney appointments to bypass Congressional confirmation, writing in a September 17, 2006 memo to Harriet Miers:

"I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed...It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don't have replacements ready to roll immediately...I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments...[By avoiding Senate confirmation] we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House."[46]

Implementing the plan[edit]

In October 2006, George W. Bush told Alberto Gonzales that he had received complaints that some of the U.S. Attorneys had not pursued certain voter-fraud investigations.[46] The complaints came from Republican officials, who demanded fraud investigations into a number of Democratic campaigns. The 2006 United States general election was imminent (November) and Republicans were concerned about losing Congressional seats to Democrats. (The Democrats did take control of the Congress.)

"The documents show that in one case, officials were eager to free up the prosecutor's slot in Little Rock, Ark., so it could be filled by Timothy Griffin, a GOP operative close to White House political guru Karl Rove — at all costs".[45][48] According to Newsweek, "Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's chief of staff, developed the list of eight prosecutors to be fired last October—with input from the White House".[49]

On November 21, 2006, Sampson sent an e-mail to an assistant in the Attorney General's office, scheduling a meeting in Gonzales' conference room with senior Justice Department advisers to discuss "U.S. Attorney Appointments".[50] Those asked to be scheduled in the meeting included Gonzales, Sampson, Monica Goodling, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Associated Deputy A.G. William Moschella, Michael Elston, and Michael Battle. On November 27, 2006, Gonzales met with senior advisers to discuss the plan.[51] The Justice Department did not receive White House approval for the firings until early December. As late as December 2, Sampson had written to Michael Elston that the Justice department was "[s]till waiting for green light from White House" with regards to the firing. Deputy White House counsel William K. Kelley responded on December 4, 2006, saying, "We're a go for the U.S. Atty plan... [the White House office of legislative affairs], political, communications have signed off and acknowledged that we have to be committed to following through once the pressure comes."[52]

On December 7, 2006, Justice Department official Michael A. Battle informed seven U.S. Attorneys that they were being dismissed.[53]

Although seven attorneys were dismissed on December 7, 2006, subsequent disclosures show that three or more additional attorneys were dismissed under similar circumstances between 2005 and 2006.[54] U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins in Arkansas had been informed in June 2006 that he was to be replaced, and he resigned, effective December 20, 2006, several days after the public announcement of the appointment of his successor Timothy Griffin.[55]

Dismissed U.S. Attorneys Summary ( )
Effective Date
of Resignation
Federal District Replacement1
Dismissed December 7, 2006
1. David Iglesias Dec 19, 2006 New Mexico Larry Gomez
2. Kevin V. Ryan Jan 16, 2007 Northern California Scott Schools
3. John McKay Jan 26, 2007 Western Washington Jeffrey C. Sullivan
4. Paul K. Charlton Jan 31, 2007 Arizona Daniel G. Knauss
5. Carol Lam Feb 15, 2007 Southern California Karen Hewitt
6. Daniel Bogden Feb 28, 2007 Nevada Steven Myhre
7. Margaret Chiara Mar 16, 2007 Western Michigan Russell C. Stoddard
Others dismissed in 2006
1. Todd Graves Mar 24, 20062 Western Missouri Bradley Schlozman6
2. Bud Cummins Dec 20, 20063 Eastern Arkansas Timothy Griffin5
Dismissed in 2005
1. Thomas M. DiBiagio Jan 2, 20054 Maryland Allen F. Loucks
2. Kasey Warner Jul 20054 Southern W. Virginia Charles T. Miller
1Source: Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys Offices

2Informed of dismissal January 2006.
3Informed of dismissal June 2006.
4Date resignation requested by the Department of Justice is unknown.
5Subsequently submitted resignation on May 30, 2007, effective June 1, 2007.
6Subsequently returned to positions at the Department of Justice in Washington

Congressional investigation and hearings[edit]

See: Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy documents for released documents and hearings transcripts

The initial reaction was from the senators of the affected states. In a letter to Gonzales on January 9, 2007, Senators Feinstein (D, California) and Leahy (D, Vermont; Chair of the Committee) of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed concern that the confirmation process for U.S. attorneys would be bypassed, and on January 11, they, together with Senator Pryor (D, Arkansas), introduced legislation "to prevent circumvention of the Senate's constitutional prerogative to confirm U.S. Attorneys", called Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, S. 214 and H.R. 580.[56]

Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 18. He assured the committee that he did not intend to bypass the confirmation process and denied the firings were politically motivated.[57]

The concerns expressed by Senators Feinstein and Pryor were followed up by hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee called by Senator Schumer (D, New York) in February.[58][59] Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 6. He underscored that the seven were fired for job performance issues, and not political considerations.[60]

In subsequent closed-door testimony on April 27, 2007 to the committee, McNulty said that days after the February hearing, he learned that White House officials had not revealed to him White House influence and discussions on creating the list.[60][61] McNulty in February called Senator Schumer by telephone to apologize for the inaccurate characterization of the firings.[62] McNulty testified that Bud Cummins, the U.S. Attorney for Arkansas, was removed to install a former aide to Karl Rove and Republican National Committee opposition research director, Timothy Griffin.[63] Cummins, apparently, "was ousted after Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, intervened on behalf of Griffin".[60][64]

McNulty's testimony that the attorneys were fired for "performance related issues" caused the attorneys to come forward in protest.[60][65][66]

Battle resignation[edit]

On March 5, 2007 effective March 16, Michael A. Battle resigned his position of Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA).[53][67] On March 6, 2007, Gonzales responded to the controversy in an op-ed in USA Today in which he wrote:

"To be clear, [the firing] was for reasons related to policy, priorities and management — what have been referred to broadly as "performance-related" reasons — that seven U.S. attorneys were asked to resign last December.... We have never asked a U.S. attorney to resign in an effort to retaliate against him or her or to inappropriately interfere with a public corruption case (or any other type of case, for that matter). Like me, U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and we all serve at the pleasure of the president. If U.S. attorneys are not executing their responsibilities in a manner that furthers the management and policy goals of departmental leadership, it is appropriate that they be replaced...While I am grateful for the public service of these seven U.S. attorneys, they simply lost my confidence. I hope that this episode ultimately will be recognized for what it is: an overblown personnel matter."[20]

Sampson resignation[edit]

On March 12, 2007, Sampson resigned from the Department of Justice.[52] On March 13, Gonzales stated in a news conference that he accepted responsibility for mistakes made in the dismissal and rejected calls for his resignation that Democratic members of Congress had been making. He also stood by his decision to dismiss the attorneys, saying "I stand by the decision and I think it was the right decision".[52] Gonzales admitted that "incomplete information was communicated or may have been communicated to Congress" by Justice Department officials,[68][69] and said that "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood."

Gonzales lost more support when records subsequently challenged some of these statements. Although the Department of Justice released 3,000 pages of its internal communications related to this issue, none of those documents discussed anything related to a performance review process for these attorneys before they were fired.[70] Records released on March 23 showed that on his November 27 schedule "he attended an hour-long meeting at which, aides said, he approved a detailed plan for executing the purge".[71]

Goodling resignation[edit]

Main article: Monica Goodling

Sampson's replacement as the Attorney General's temporary chief of staff was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Chuck Rosenberg. Rosenberg initiated a DOJ inquiry into possibly inappropriate political considerations in Monica Goodling's hiring practices for civil service staff. Civil service positions are not political appointments and must be made on a nonpartisan basis. In one example, Jeffrey A. Taylor, former interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, tried to hire a new career prosecutor, Seth Adam Meinero, in the fall of 2006. Goodling judged Meinero too "liberal" and declined to approve the hire.[72] Meinero, a Howard University law school graduate who had worked on civil rights cases at the Environmental Protection Agency, was serving as a special assistant prosecutor in Taylor's office. Taylor went around Goodling, and demanded Sampson's approval to make the hire.

On March 26, 2007, Goodling, who had helped coordinate the dismissal of the attorneys with the White House,[73] took leave from her job as counsel to the attorney general and as the Justice Department's liaison to the White House.[74] Goodling was set to testify before Congress, but on March 26, 2007, Goodling cancelled her appearance at the Congressional hearing, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.[75][76] On April 6, 2007, Ms. Goodling resigned from the Department of Justice,[77] stating in her three-sentence resignation letter to Mr. Gonzales, "May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America."[73]

On April 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution,[78] by a 32–6 vote, authorizing lawyers for the House to apply for a court order granting Goodling immunity in exchange for her testimony and authorizing a subpoena for her.[79] On May 11, 2007, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Thomas Hogan signed an order granting Goodling immunity in exchange for her truthful testimony in the U.S. Attorney firings investigation, stating that "Goodling may not refuse to testify, and may not refuse to provide other information, when compelled to do so" before the Committee.[80]

Testimony of Sara Taylor: Claims of executive privilege[edit]

On July 11, 2007, Sara Taylor, former top aide to Karl Rove, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Throughout Taylor's testimony, she refused to answer many questions, saying "I have a very clear letter from [White House counsel] Mr. [Fred] Fielding. That letter says and has asked me to follow the president's assertion of executive privilege."[81]

In summary, Taylor told the Senate that she

"did not talk to or meet with President Bush about removing federal prosecutors before eight of them were fired", she had no knowledge on whether Bush was involved in any way in the firings, her resignation had nothing to do with the controversy, "she did not recall ordering the addition or deletion of names to the list of prosecutors to be fired", and she refuted the testimony of Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, that she sought "to avoid submitting a new prosecutor, Tim Griffin, through Senate confirmation."[81][82]

Contempt of Congress charges[edit]

On July 11, 2007, as Sara Taylor testified, George Manning, the attorney to former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, announced that Miers intended to follow the request of the Bush Administration and not appear before the Committee the following day.[83] Manning stated Miers "cannot provide the documents and testimony that the committee seeks."[82]

In response to the announcement, Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) Chair of the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, released a letter saying the decision "could subject Ms. Miers to contempt proceedings."

On July 25, 2007 the United States House Committee on the Judiciary voted along party lines 22-17 to issue citations of Contempt of Congress to White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.[84] Committee Republicans voted against the measure, calling it "a partisan waste of time", while Democrats said "this is the moment for Congress to rein in the administration."[84]

On February 14, 2008, the United States House of Representatives voted 223–32 along party lines to pass the contempt resolutions against White House Chief of Staff Bolten and former White House Counsel Miers.[85][86] Most Republicans staged a walkout during the vote.

Subpoenas and lost emails[edit]

On April 10, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for documents from Gonzales that included the full text of all documents that had been partially or completely redacted in the DOJ's previous release of documents.[87]

Later that day a White House spokesman stated that some of the emails that had involved official correspondence relating to the firing of attorneys may have been lost because they were conducted on Republican party accounts and not stored properly. "Some official e-mails have potentially been lost and that is a mistake the White House is aggressively working to correct." said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. Stonzel said that they could not rule out the possibility that some of the lost emails dealt with the firing of U.S. attorneys.[88] For example, J. Scott Jennings, an aide to Karl Rove communicated with Justice Department officials "concerning the appointment of Tim Griffin, a former Rove aide, as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, according to e-mails released in March, 2007. For that exchange, Jennings, although working at the White House, used an e-mail account registered to the Republican National Committee, where Griffin had worked as a political opposition researcher."[89]

On May 2, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to Attorney General Gonzales compelling the Department of Justice to produce all email from Karl Rove regarding evaluation and dismissal of attorneys that was sent to DOJ staffers, no matter what email account Rove may have used, whether White House, National Republican party, or other accounts, with a deadline of May 15, 2007, for compliance. The subpoena also demanded relevant email previously produced in the Valarie Plame controversy and investigation for the CIA leak scandal (2003).[90]

In August 2007, Karl Rove resigned without responding to the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena claiming, "I just think it's time to leave." President Bush bid a fond farewell to his good friend and promised to follow him soon.[91]

March–August 2007: Gonzales resignation[edit]

On May 24, 2007, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced the Democrats' proposed no-confidence resolution to vote on whether "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and the American People."[92] The resolution would have had no legal effect, but was designed to persuade Gonzales to depart or President Bush to seek a new attorney general. A similar resolution was introduced in the House by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).[93] On June 11, 2007, the resolution failed when a Senate vote failed to obtain the 60 votes required for cloture. The vote was 53 for, 38 against with 7 not voting, 1 voting "present", and one vacant senate seat.[94][95]

Gonzales submitted his resignation as Attorney General effective September 17, 2007,[96] by a letter addressed to President Bush on August 26, 2007. In a statement on August 27, Gonzales thanked the President for the opportunity to be of service to his country, giving no indication of either the reasons for his resignation or his future plans. Later that day, President Bush praised Gonzales for his service, reciting the numerous positions in Texas government, and later, the government of the United States, to which Bush had appointed Gonzales. Bush attributed the resignation to Gonzales' name having been "dragged through the mud" for "political reasons".[96] Senators Schumer (D-NY), Feinstein (D-CA) and Specter (R-PA) replied that the resignation was entirely attributable to the excessive politicization of the Attorney General's office by Gonzales, whose credibility with Congress, they asserted, was nonexistent.

On September 17, 2007, President Bush announced the nomination of ex-Judge Michael Mukasey to serve as Gonzales' successor.[97]

Inspector General Report and Special Prosecutor[edit]

On September 29, 2008 the Justice Department's Inspector General (IG) released a report on the matter that found most of the firings were politically motivated and improper. The next day Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a special prosecutor Nora Dannehy to decide whether criminal charges should be brought against Gonzales and other officials involved in the firings.[32] The IG's report contained "substantial evidence" that party politics drove a number of the firings, and IG Glenn Fine said in a statement that Gonzales had "abdicated his responsibility to safeguard the integrity and independence of the department."[98] The report itself stopped short of resolving questions about higher White House involvement in the matter, because of what it said were the refusal to cooperate of a number of key players, among them Karl Rove, Senator Pete Domenici and Harriet Miers and because the White House refused to hand over its documents related to the firings.[99]

On July 21, 2010, Nora Dannehy, the special prosecutor tasked with investigating the attorney dismissals, concluded that "there was insufficient evidence to establish that persons knowingly made material false statements to [the Office of Inspector General] or Congress or corruptly endeavored to obstruct justice"[100] and that no criminal charges would be filed against Sampson or Gonzales. This decision has been criticized as an indication that the Department of Justice was being too lenient with Bush-era officials.[101]

Appointment of U.S. Attorneys and the 2005 Patriot Act reauthorization[edit]

The appointment process for U.S. Attorneys[edit]

The President of the United States has the authority to appoint U.S. Attorneys, with the consent of the United States Senate, and the President may remove U.S. Attorneys from office.[102] In the event of a vacancy, the United States Attorney General is authorized to appoint an interim U.S. Attorney. Before March 9, 2006, such interim appointments expired after 120 days, if a Presidential appointment had not been approved by the Senate. Vacancies that persisted beyond 120 days were filled through interim appointments made by the Federal District Court for the district of the vacant office.[103]

Senate-confirmed appointments to the Department of Justice (DOJ) offices, particularly U.S. Attorneys, are political in nature. Appointments to U.S. Attorney positions are often made in consultation with individual senators representing the state with the vacant position, typically with some emphasis in consulting Senators of the same party as the President.

For further information:

Revised interim appointment process in March 2006[edit]

The USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, signed into law March 9, 2006, amended the law for the interim appointment of U.S. Attorneys by deleting two provisions: (a) the 120-day maximum term for the Attorney General's interim appointees, and (b) the subsequent interim appointment authority of Federal District Courts. (See Law references for the text to the statute (28 U.S.C. § 546), and its amendments.) With the revision, an interim appointee can potentially serve indefinitely (though still removable by the President), if the President declines to nominate a U.S. Attorney for a vacancy, or the Senate either fails to act on a Presidential nomination, or rejects a nominee that is different than the interim appointee.

The change was written into the bill by a Judiciary committee staff member of Republican Senator Arlen Specter when the bill was modified in joint conference committee, reconciling the Senate and House versions of the bill.[18] During Senate hearings on February 6, 2007, Senator Specter stated that Brett Tolman, a committee staffer, had inserted the clause at the request of behalf of the Department of Justice.[104][105] Specter stated that the change in the law had been partly to address separation of powers concerns expressed by a number of court districts, the issue being the interim appointments of U.S. Attorneys (executive branch) by the courts (judicial branch).[105] The courts had appointed interim U.S. Attorneys for over a hundred years by then.[106] The Department of Justice had been seeking a way to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval prior to 2005.[107][108]

On March 20, 2007, the Senate voted 94-2 to re-instate the 120-day term limit on interim attorneys appointed by the Attorney General.[109] On March 26, the U.S. House voted to reinstate the 120-day term limit as well, by a vote of 329–78.[110] The bill was eventually passed in identical form by both houses in May 2007 and was signed into law by the President on June 14, 2007.[111][112][113]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bowermaster, David (2007-05-09). "Charges may result from firings, say two former U.S. attorneys". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  2. ^ a b Eggen, Dan; Amy Goldstein (2007-05-14). "Voter-Fraud Complaints by GOP Drove Dismissals". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  3. ^ Scelfo, Julie (2007-03-15). "'Quite Unprecedented': Former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White explains why the firing of eight federal prosecutors could threaten the historic independence of federal law-enforcement officials.". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  4. ^ Eggen, Dan;; Paul Kane (March 14, 2007). "Gonzales: 'Mistakes Were Made': But Attorney General Defends Firings of Eight U.S. Attorneys". The Washington Post. pp. A01. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  5. ^ Style="Border-Top;">Source, <Div (2007-03-06). "Fired U.S. Attorneys". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  6. ^ Montopoli, Brian (2007-03-14). "So Is This U.S. Attorney Purge Unprecedented Or Not?". Public Eye (CBS News). Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  7. ^ Jordan, Lara Jakes; (Associated Press) (2007-09-15). "Attorney general bids farewell to Justice: Praises work of department". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  8. ^ a b c "An Investigation into the Removal of Nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006" (PDF). DOJ Inspector General. pp. 355–358. Retrieved 2011-04-17. 
  9. ^ DOJ: Prosecutor firing was politics, not crime[dead link].
  10. ^ "White House and Justice Department begin U.S. Attorney transition" (Press release). Office of the Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice. March 14, 2001. 
  11. ^ a b Gerson, Stuart M. (2007-03-14). "Inside the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorneys Controversy". The Washington Post Live Online (discussion transcript) (The Washington Post). Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  12. ^ "Current situation is distinct from Clinton firings of U.S. attorneys". McClatchy Newspapers. March 13, 2007. 
  13. ^ Marisa Taylor and Greg Gordon (2007-01-26). "New U.S. attorneys come from Bush's inner circle". McClatchy Newspapers. [dead link]
  14. ^ "House votes to strip U.S. Attorney provision". Think Progress. March 26, 2007. 
  15. ^ Michael Roston (June 15, 2007). "Bush signs bill to preserve US Attorneys' 'independence'". Raw Story. 
  16. ^ "President Bush Signs S. 214". Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. June 14, 2007.  (via Archive.org)
  17. ^ Jane Ann Morrison (2007-01-18). "Bush administration's ouster of U.S. attorneys an insulting injustice". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 2007-04-16. [dead link]
  18. ^ a b Marisa Taylor; Greg Gordon (2007-01-26). "Gonzales appoints political loyalists into vacant U.S. attorneys slots". McClatchy Newspapers. [dead link]
  19. ^ Mark Follman (2007-04-19). "The U.S. attorneys scandal gets dirty". Salon.com. Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  20. ^ a b Alberto R. Gonzales (March 7, 2007). "They lost my confidence: Attorneys' dismissals were related to performance, not to politics". USA Today. p. A10. Retrieved 2007-03-07. 
  21. ^ David Johnston (2007-02-25). "Dismissed U.S. Attorneys Praised in Evaluations". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
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References and external links[edit]

Released Administration documents

Commentary, analysis, time lines

Articles and books

US Attorneys controversy references