YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Senate may regain final say on hiring of U.S. attorneys

March 09, 2007|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, accused of politicizing the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys, agreed Thursday not to oppose legislation to restore rules ensuring Senate oversight when new prosecutors are named, Senate Democrats said.

The Justice Department also agreed to make five senior officials available to the Senate Judiciary Committee for questioning about the removal of eight U.S. attorneys in recent months, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the panel's subcommittee on administrative oversight. Committee members had threatened to subpoena the officials if they did not agree to testify voluntarily.

The apparent deal followed a meeting Thursday between committee members and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

The ouster of the prosecutors, all Republican appointees, and accusations by some of them that their dismissals were politically motivated have embarrassed the department.

Seven of them were asked to resign on a single day in December for what were described as performance-related reasons. Several offered their own explanations Tuesday during eight hours of congressional testimony; David C. Iglesias, formerly the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, said he believed he lost his job because of concerns that he was not aggressively pursuing a corruption case against Democrats.

Democrats have targeted a little-noticed provision in last year's reauthorization of the Patriot Act that gives the attorney general the power to appoint "interim" U.S. attorneys.

Because the appointments are considered temporary, Senate confirmation is not required, even though the prosecutors can serve indefinitely. Democrats fear that the administration is trying to skirt the confirmation process through interim appointments that last until Bush leaves office.

The Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that would restore a procedure, in place from 1986 until last year, allowing the attorney general to appoint an interim U.S. attorney for 120 days. After that time, if the Senate has not confirmed a permanent replacement, the local U.S. District Court could name an interim U.S. attorney.

The administration had argued that by allowing judges to appoint prosecutors, the old law violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

Los Angeles Times Articles