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Bush's pick doesn't want Justice post

June 23, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Bush's pick to be the No. 3 official in the Justice Department asked to have his nomination withdrawn Friday, four days before he was to face the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing.

William W. Mercer sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales saying it was unlikely that the Senate would confirm him as associate attorney general, a post he has held on an interim basis since September. He said he planned to leave Washington and turn his full attention to his work as U.S. attorney for Montana.

"With no clear end in sight with respect to my nomination, it is untenable for me to pursue both responsibilities and provide proper attention to my family," Mercer wrote.

The Judiciary Committee had scheduled a hearing on Mercer's nomination for Tuesday. A committee spokeswoman had said senators needed the facts from an investigation into the firings of several federal prosecutors before Mercer could be confirmed.

"The White House has found many ways to keep sunlight from reaching some of the darker corners of the Bush Justice Department, but this is a new one," committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. "With a confirmation hearing looming next Tuesday, they have withdrawn this nomination to avoid having to answer more questions under oath."

Mercer is the sixth senior Justice Department official to leave the tight-knit circle of Gonzales' advisors in the wake of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys in December.

However, he is the only of the group to remain with the Justice Department.

Mercer said in his letter to Gonzales that he believed he would not be confirmed promptly, if ever, "in part by statements suggesting that some senior Justice nominees will not be voted upon until the Senate receives e-mails and witnesses it has demanded from the White House."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said it was unfortunate that the Senate had indicated it would not act to confirm nominees.

Mercer's name comes up in e-mail exchanges between Justice Department and White House officials discussing the firings. The panel had authorized a subpoena for Mercer as part of its investigation.

The nomination's demise points up the difficulty Bush faces as he tries to fill the top ranks of a department under the weight of congressional investigation.

Several lawmakers, including Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, have said that the department is dysfunctional and that it suffers with Gonzales still at the helm.

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