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Democrats to Press Gonzales on Dismissals

Feinstein also hinted that Lam’s office may be prosecuting other Congressional misdeeds, though she did not elaborate. The only other known investigation into a California Member is one involving Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), whose relationship with the lobbying firm of ex-Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.) is being probed by the Justice Department as an outgrowth of the investigation of jailed ex-Rep. Cunningham.

“As a matter of fact, the rumor has it — and this is only rumor — that U.S. Attorney Lam, who carried out the prosecution of the Duke Cunningham case, has other cases pending whereby, rumor has it, Members of Congress have been subpoenaed,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor. “I have also been told that this interrupts the flow of the prosecution of these cases, to have the present U.S. attorney be forced to resign by the end of this month.”

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) wrote a Jan. 17 letter to Gonzales saying they were “perplexed” at Lam’s removal.

Lam confirmed Jan. 16 that she will be leaving her position effective Feb. 15. “I thank the President for giving me the opportunity to serve,” she said in a statement.

Feinstein cited seven other instances in which U.S. attorneys have recently been dismissed. They include Lam, and U.S. Attorneys Kevin Ryan of San Francisco, David Iglesias of New Mexico, Daniel Bogden of Nevada, Bud Cummins III of Arkansas, John McKay of Washington and Paul Charlton of Arizona. Besides Lam, none of the prosecutors is involved in identified Congressional cases.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Wednesday that there was no intent whatsoever to circumvent the confirmation process.

“It is our intention, and in our vested interest, to have a U.S. attorney that is Senate confirmed in every single district,” Roehrkasse said. “The use of the appointment authority is in no way an attempt to circumvent the confirmation process.”

The Justice Department maintains there are about 8 to 15 vacancies in district attorney positions at any given time. They acknowledged 11 current vacancies since the USA PATRIOT Act was amended to give the Justice Department interim appointment authority. Five nominations have been made, and Justice is interviewing six other candidates.

The dismissal of Lam, whom Bush appointed in 2002, may prove the most controversial. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, prosecutors in her office were shocked by the news. Officials cited by the newspaper said she was asked to step down because she did not make smuggling and gun cases a high priority. The newspaper reported that prosecutions under Lam have plummeted from 5,266 in 2001, the year before she stepped in, to 3,261 cases in 2005.

Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln are upset that Cummins, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Arkansas, was asked to leave. He was replaced by Tim Griffin, a former Republican National Committee operative, who some Democrats complain lacks legal experience. Cummins announced his resignation in June, and Griffin was sworn-in in December.

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