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Senate Democrats Want Judges To Return To Naming US Attorneys January 16, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Senate Democrats want to take away Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ power to replace U.S. attorneys who fall out of favor and return that authority to federal district judges.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Mark Pryor of Arkansas complained Tuesday that the White House is using an obscure provision in the newly reauthorized USA Patriot Act to reward Republican political allies with jobs as federal prosecutors.

“The Bush administration is pushing out U.S. attorneys from across the country under the cloak of secrecy and then appointing indefinite replacements,” Feinstein said.

“It appears that the administration has chosen to use this provision, which was intended to help protect our nation, to circumvent the transparent constitutional Senate confirmation process to reward political allies,” Pryor said in the joint Democratic statement.

Not true, Gonzales told The Associated Press.

“We are fully committed to ensuring that with respect to every position we have a Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed U.S. attorney,” Gonzales told editors and reporters during an interview Tuesday.

“We in no way politicize these decisions,” he added.

U.S. District Court judges, Gonzales said, tend to appoint friends and others not properly qualified to be prosecutors.

Better that judges do the hiring than the White House, say Democrats, who have introduced legislation to return the appointment process to the courts.

The subject is headed for a public airing Thursday when Gonzales appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for its first oversight hearing of his department since the Democrats took control of Congress.

At issue is whether the administration is using an obscure provision in the terrorism-fighting USA Patriot Act to oust federal prosecutors and replace them for the duration of the Bush administration with White House allies.

The intent of the law was to ensure continuity of law enforcement when federal prosecutors are lost in terrorist attacks or other crises. Under it, the attorney general would be permitted to appoint replacements, indefinitely, without Senate confirmation.

In the year since the reauthorization took effect, 11 federal prosecutors have resigned or announced their resignations – some at the urging of the Bush administration, Gonzales said. He described a range of reasons for ousting sitting U.S. attorneys, from their job performance to their standing in their communities, and noted that federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president.

Gonzales repeatedly cited the Patriot Act when discussing the replacements, but twice refused to say when asked whether any of the personnel changes at issue pertained to national security.

But he stressed that anyone named to replace the departing prosecutors have their jobs only temporarily, pending Senate confirmation. His comments encouraged some Democrats.

“That’s good news, if that’s the case,” Pryor said in a telephone interview later Tuesday. But he stood by his assertion that in his state, the Justice Department improperly ousted U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins and replaced him with Tim Griffin, a protege of Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Feinstein, meanwhile, complained on the Senate floor Tuesday that U.S. Attorneys Carol Lam of San Diego and Kevin Ryan of San Francisco were ousted from their positions for political reasons. Lam prosecuted and obtained the conviction of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.

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