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Lam's exit draws scrutiny by Dems

Congressmen ask if U.S. attorney in San Diego was forced out over her role in corruption case.

January 18, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Two prominent Democratic congressmen asked the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday whether the Bush administration forced San Diego U.S. Atty. Carol Lam to resign because of her vigorous prosecution of public corruption cases, including that of a longtime Republican lawmaker.

In a letter to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzalez, Reps. John Conyers of Michigan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Howard Berman of California, a member of the committee, said they were "perplexed" that Lam was being removed at a time when her leadership of the office has drawn praise from law enforcement officials in San Diego.

"Since her appointment as U.S. attorney in 2002, we have heard no suggestion that she was either unqualified for the position or that she was guilty of misconduct in her office," the congressmen wrote.

Moreover, they noted, Lam had been heading a continuing high-profile public corruption probe that already has led to the federal conviction and imprisonment of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for bribery and tax evasion.

"We do not doubt that removing Lam from the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego now will disrupt this investigation," the congressmen wrote, adding that the forced resignation "leaves the appearance that this growing public corruption probe may be part of the administration's motivation in removing her.

"If this is untrue, it is vitally important that this perception be corrected, and we ask you to share with us the basis of your request for her resignation," they said.

While Lam has not been available for comment, a Justice Department spokesman denied that the career prosecutor and former Superior Court judge was asked to resign because of her work in public corruption cases.

"These allegations are reckless and inaccurate since the department does not make decisions about the criminal justice system based on politics," said Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

"I am not going to comment on speculation about any U.S. attorney that was rumored to have been encouraged to leave. However, it is erroneous to believe that anyone would be encouraged to resign in an effort to retaliate against them or interfere with or inappropriately influence a particular investigation, criminal prosecution or civil case," he said.

"The department's record rooting out public corruption is tremendous. These cases are brought by the career prosecutors directed by DOJ leadership to seek out corruption wherever it exists."

In a Senate speech Tuesday, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein charged that Lam and six other U.S. attorneys, including the top federal prosecutor in San Francisco, Kevin V. Ryan, had been forced to resign recently without explanation. Feinstein said she planned to raise the issue today with Gonzalez at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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