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Congress Wary of Justice Department Firings

Evaluations of the U.S. attorneys recently dismissed by the Justice Department under a little-known USA Patriot Act provision described them as "well regarded" and "very competent." Analysts discuss the firings and congressional charges of political tampering.

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    Margaret Chiara, the U.S. attorney for Western Michigan, suddenly announced her resignation on Friday after five years in the post. Although Chiara herself wouldn't comment, several news accounts report she was forced out by Justice Department officials over differences of views on capital punishment, among other things.

    Chiara is the eighth U.S. attorney to resign since December at the government's request. The others: Bud Cummins, from Arkansas; Paul Charlton, of Arizona; Daniel Bogden, Nevada; David Iglesias, New Mexico; John McKay, Seattle; Kevin Ryan, San Francisco; and Carol Lam in San Diego.

    Lam recently had won praise for indicting the number-three official at the CIA on corruption charges and for successfully prosecuting former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who took $2 million in bribes from defense contractors.

    In fact, in recent years, all had received positive job evaluations. However, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has insisted that the prosecutors were replaced because they performed inadequately.

    At a Senate hearing last month, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein took issue with that assertion. She's pushing to repeal the law allowing the attorney general to replace sitting U.S. attorneys with temporary replacements indefinitely and without Senate approval.

    SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: I'm very concerned. I've had two of them asked to resign in my state, from major jurisdictions, with major cases ongoing, with substantially good records as prosecutors.

  • ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. Attorney General:

    I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it.


    But in the case of Bud Cummins in Arkansas, the Justice Department did admit he was removed to make way for a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove.