Senate Democrats want to take back attorney general's power to replace U.S. attorneys
...At issue is whether the administration is using an obscure provision in the terrorism-fighting USA Patriot Act to oust federal prosecutors and replace them for the duration of the Bush administration with White House allies.
The intent of the law was to ensure continuity of law enforcement when federal prosecutors are lost in terrorist attacks or other crises. Under it, the attorney general would be permitted to appoint replacements, indefinitely, without Senate confirmation.
In the year since the reauthorization took effect, 11 federal prosecutors have resigned or announced their resignations -- some at the urging of the Bush administration, Gonzales said. He described a range of reasons for ousting sitting U.S. attorneys, from their job performance to their standing in their communities, and noted that federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president..
...Feinstein, meanwhile, complained on the Senate floor Tuesday that U.S. Attorneys Carol Lam of San Diego and Kevin Ryan of San Francisco were ousted from their positions for political reasons. Lam prosecuted and obtained the conviction of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif....
Prosecutor in Balco Probe
Top federal prosecutors resign in California
...The two are among 11 top federal prosecutors who have resigned or announced their resignations since an obscure provision in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization last year enabled the U.S. attorney general to appoint replacements without Senate confirmation.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, complained on the Senate floor Tuesday that the White House is using the provision to oust Ryan, Lam and other federal prosecutors and replace them with Republican allies.
"The Bush administration is pushing out U.S. attorneys from across the country under the cloak of secrecy and then appointing indefinite replacements," Feinstein said.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales denied the claim, saying administration officials "in no way politicize these decisions."....
...Lam, also appointed in 2002, did not comment on the circumstances of her departure, slated for February 15, or discuss future plans in a statement.
In her tenure leading the Southern District, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties, she prioritized prosecuting political corruption and health care fraud.
Lam also oversaw the government's case against Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the former Republican congressman who pleaded guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes, and her office won corruption convictions of two San Diego city councilmen....