Press Releases

Senate Reverses Administration Effort to Circumvent Senate Confirmation Process for U.S. Attorneys

Senate approves Feinstein-Specter-Leahy-Schumer agreement that would limit time interim U.S. Attorney’s could be in place without Senate confirmation

Washington, DCThe U.S. Senate today approved a measure sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would prevent the circumvention of the Senate's constitutional prerogative to confirm U.S. Attorneys.

Under a provision inserted without notice into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization last year, the law was changed so that if a vacancy arises, the Attorney General may appoint a replacement for an indefinite period of time – thus completely avoiding the Senate confirmation process.

The legislation approved by the Senate today would restore the process in place before 2006.  It would allow the Attorney General to appoint interim U.S. Attorney for 120 days.  If after that time the President has not sent up a nominee to the Senate and had that nominee confirmed, then the authority to appoint an interim U.S. Attorney would fall to the district court.  This was the law from 1986 to 2006. 

Below is Senator Feinstein’s statement as delivered at a news conference following the Senate vote: 

“When I first heard about this early in January, I had no idea where this would lead.  I spoke to Senator Schumer, I spoke to Senator Leahy, and they both assumed the leadership that I am very proud of.  That I think has brought out facts that indicate that there has really been a politicization of United States Attorneys. 

This is something that has never happened in our history before, and that is the wholesale firing of U.S. Attorneys.  On one day, December 7, seven U.S. Attorneys were told they would have to retire by January 15.  This was done under a little known amendment to the Patriot Act, which was passed in March 2006.  No Senator knew this was in the bill. 

This was then used to consider whether all 93 U.S. Attorneys should be fired, or just some.  And the first tranche, hopefully the only tranche, came through in these seven U.S. Attorneys. 

This incident has shined a bright light into the inner workings of the Bush Administration.  And what it has revealed is not pretty. 

We’ve seen the arrogance of an Administration that has operated without serious Congressional oversight.  We’ve seen shifting explanations – from ‘performance-related’ to ‘loss of confidence’ to ‘we can do better.’  We’ve even seen mismanagement and abdication of responsibility by the senior leadership of the Department of Justice.  And we’ve seen a chilling message sent to 85 remaining U.S. Attorneys.

I am here today to say that those days are over.  This legislation is now passing the Senate.  I’m confident that it will pass the House.  And I hope the President will sign it into law.

But the passage of this bill is not the end of our investigation.

Major questions remain.  And the documents released last night only reveal more questions that need to be answered.

  • What was the real reason why these eight U.S. Attorneys were fired, especially in light of the fact that six of the eight were involved in prosecuting corruption?
  • A Department spokesman has said that the chart ranking U.S. Attorneys ‘is not an official department position on these U.S. Attorneys.’  If that’s the case, then what was the reason why these U.S. Attorneys were fired?
  • Deputy Attorney General McNulty wrote that he’s ‘a little skittish about Bogden’ and that he hadn’t reviewed Bodgen’s performance.  If that’s true, then who made the final decision, and for what reason was Bogden actually fired?
  • There appears to be names of fired attorneys that have been redacted.  Senator Leahy showed you one of what are about 12 pages of these redactions.  Will it be disclosed whether there are more U.S. Attorneys who were asked to resign?
  • Will Karl Rove and other White House officials come before the Senate, under oath, and disclose their role in this matter?
  • Will Attorney General Gonzales and other Department of Justice officials explain what the ‘real problem’ with Carol Lam was?

The Senate is making its voice clear.  The time for slippery explanations is over.  The American people deserve the truth.

And I’d just like to add one other thing.  You know they say that the best defense is a strong offense. 

And I just want to make a public statement in support of my colleague on the right, Senator Schumer, who Senator Leahy asked to chair the hearings and who has done so, I think, in a forthright, a direct, and a very admirable way. 

I think any accusation against Senator Schumer at this time is really an obstruction, and it’s a diversion.   And it’s using that best defense is an offense. 

We don’t intend to stop now.  We intend to flesh out who did what, when, and why.  And it’s very important, as Senator Leahy has said, that it is done under oath and before the American people.”