Last year congress passed a little noticed provision in the Patriot Act, slipped into the bill in the middle of the night, that gave the U.S. attorney general the authority to appoint interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate approval. Previously, interim appointments could only be made for one hundred and twenty days without being confirmed by the senate. The new ruling allows the Bush administration to appoint US attorneys who will remain in the position until Bush leaves office. What has happened since this provision was passed is prosecutorial purges at an unprecedented rate. The Congressional Research Service found that of the four hundred, eighty-six U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, only three have been forced out. In twenty-five years we lost three U.S. attorneys this way, since the patriot act provision passed at least eight U.S. Attorneys have been fired. Four of the prosecutors were presiding over high profile public corruption investigations; the others had run afoul of the Bush administration over immigration, capitol punishment and other issues.
San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, is a former judge, who had led the successful bribery prosecution of Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, that led to his guilty plea for taking more than two million in bribes from defense contractors. Her continued investigation led to the indictment of Former CIA executive, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, for eleven counts of corruption in the awarding of covert CIA contracts. The indictment of Foggo led to the indictment of Brent R. Wilkes, a Republican “Pioneer” who raised more than $100,000 for Bush’s 2004 reelection; Wilkes was indicted for bribing “Duke” Cunningham. Despite a good performance review, Lam was fired before she could complete her investigation.
Nevada’s U.S. Attorney, Daniel Bogden, was overseeing an FBI investigation into the alleged bribery by a defense contractor of Congressman Jim Gibbons; Gibbons is now the governor of Nevada. U.S Attorney, Paul Charlton, was investigating a current member of congress. He had also clashed with the Bush administration over the death penalty. Both, along with Seattle’s U.S. Attorney John McKay and New Mexico’s U.S. Attorney David Iglesis, were fired despite strong job evaluations.
The most recent termination has been that of Grand Rapids, Michigan U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara. Chiara had onced studied to be a nun and was personally opposed to the death penalty. U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell said, “She’s one of the best United States attorney’s we’ve had in this district.” Before the purges began, of the ninety-three U.S attorneys, fifteen were women. Chiara became the second female to be dismissed in the purges.
Senator Charles Schumer is conducting hearings for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary into “Preserving Prosecutorial Independence: Is the Department of Justice Politicizing the Hiring and Firing of U.S. Attorneys?” He said, “The Department has increasingly based hiring on political affiliation; ignored the recommendations of career attorneys; focused on promotion of political agendas; and failed to retain legions of talented career attorneys.” He said the record showed that several U.S attorneys were seemingly removed merely to make way for political up-and-comers, fired during successful and continuing investigations of lawmakers, and one was replaced with a pure partisan of limited prosecutorial experience.
Former U.S. Attorney Peter Nunez, who served under Reagan, said this “Is like nothing I’ve ever seen before in 35-plus years.” Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said in a speech to United States Attorneys in 1940 that, “It would probably be within the range of that exaggeration permitted in Washington to say that assembled in this room is one of the most powerful peace-time forces known to our country. The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous.” It is because the position of U.S. Attorney is so powerful that it must be kept free of politicization. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported a bill out that would correct the provision passed in the Patriot Act, restoring Senate confirmation; however, the Republican leadership prevented it from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. How many more U.S. attorneys will be purged before this is corrected?