Six out of the seven
U.S. attorneys fired by
positive job reviews.
The American Spark
Were U.S. Attorneys Fired Because Of Politics?
By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 5th, 2007
Six of seven U.S. attorneys recently fired by the Justice Department had positive job reviews before they were
dismissed. Those six disagreed with the Bush Administration over a series of issues, ranging from
immigration to the death penalty, according to prosecutors, congressional aides and others familiar with the
Three months after the firings began to make waves on Capitol Hill, it has also become apparent that most of
the prosecutors were overseeing significant public-corruption investigations at the time of their firings. Oh, and
four of the probes target Republican politicians or their supporters, prosecutors and other officials said.
Coincidence? Too many to be incidental.
Of course the Justice Department clings to the gross caricature of the six Republican-appointed prosecutors in
question as putting in poor job performances. Agency officials have crowed over the widely known management
and morale problems surrounding then-U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan in San Francisco.
But this example seems little better than a biased sample. The statements have therefore enraged the rest of the
group, some of whom feel betrayed after staying silent about the manner in which they were shoved from office.
Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock, who was asked to resign earlier than the others to make
way for a former White House aide, said Justice Department officials crossed a line by publicly criticizing the
performance of his well-regarded colleagues.
"They're entitled to make these changes for any reason," Cummins told the Washington Post in a recent
interview. "But if they are trying to suggest that people have inferior performance to hide whatever their true
agenda is, that is wrong. They should retract those statements."
The end result of this most recent neo-conservative power play is an unusual spectacle: Democratic
lawmakers openly criticizing the firings of Republican-appointed prosecutors. The issue has become such a
debacle that Cummins' successor in Arkansas, former White House aide Timothy Griffin, recently announced
that he will not submit his name to the Senate for a permanent appointment.
Lawmakers from both parties are pushing to strip Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of his power to name
replacement U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period, although Republicans--who howled when the Clinton
Administration appointed U.S. attorneys during congressional recesses--recently blocked that proposal in the
Senate. The House Judiciary Committee is planning hearings on similar legislation in March.
"I don't know how they could have mishandled this any worse," said one of the fired U.S. prosecutors, who
declined to be quoted by name.
"There always have traditionally been tensions between main Justice and U.S. attorneys in the districts," said
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
"But it does seem like there's an effort to centralize authority in Washington more than there has been in the past
and in prior administrations," he told the Post.
Most of the firings came on Dec. 7, when senior Justice Department official Michael Battle--himself a former U.S.
attorney--called at least six prosecutors to inform them they were being asked to resign. Battle was apologetic,
but offered little else. He did however tell some the request had come from "on high," according to sources
familiar with the calls.
The prosecutors who were called that day are Carol Lam in San Diego, David Iglesias in New Mexico, John
McKay in Seattle, Paul Charlton in Arizona, Daniel Bogden in Nevada, and Kevin Ryan in San Francisco.
Cummins had been informed of his dismissal last summer but stayed until December.
The breaking point for the fired prosecutors came after testimony last month by Deputy Attorney General Paul
McNulty, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the six U.S. attorneys in the West and Southwest had
been dismissed for "performance-related" reasons and that Cummins had been pushed out to make room for
That "was the moment the gloves came off," one fired prosecutor who declined to be identified told the Post.
In truth only one of the fired prosecutors, Ryan in San Francisco, faced substantive complaints about turnover or
other management-related issues, say officials.
In recent days the Justice Department has sought to clarify the performance comments.
"When you are setting national policy, you cannot have U.S. attorneys setting their own policies," claimed a
Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But this false presumption is a telling mistake from this White House. It presumes that the job of everyone not in
the White House is to march grim and obsessed, in lock-step behind the "great leader."
But America is a democracy, not a kingship. And as to paraphrase WWII journalist Ernie Pyle, the right of both
officials and the public to openly hold our highest representatives accountable is always America's greatest
strength, never its weakness.