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Feinstein Offers a Remedy For the Purge

March 19, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The past couple weeks of investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, for what appear to be political reasons, are boiling down to concrete legislative action in the Senate. Debate will begin today on S.214, a bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (pictured at right, questioning the fired attorneys), titled the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) stated what he sees as the problem with how the firings went down:

>Here’s the problem. Of course, every president has the right to hire and fire U.S. attorneys at will. Every president, when they come in in a new term, like President Clinton did, basically cleans house and puts in new U.S. attorneys. Ronald Reagan did within his first year, George Bush, the first, did within his first year, and this president, Karl Rove’s employer, George Bush, our present President George Bush did it. All the U.S. attorneys were replaced. What’s different here is not simply that the president wanting this choice, not that choice, but, in these instances, the evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming that certain U.S. attorneys, and only certain ones, not all of them, but certain U.S. attorneys were fired because either they wouldn’t prosecute a case that was politically advantageous to the White House or they were prosecuting a case that was disadvantageous to the White House. Every legal commentator, left, right, center, says you can’t do that, that’s the one thing you can’t do.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) believes she has the solution to the problem Schumer laid out:

>"There is a clear remedy: return the law to what it was before the Justice Department slipped in the change to the Patriot Act reauthorization, and continue the on-going investigation of the matter."

The slipped-in change to the Patriot Act that Feinstein is referring to, allows the Attorney General to fill any vacant federal attorney seats with a replacement for an indefinite amount of time without a Senate confirmation. Essentially, the change made the confirmation process irrelevant.

Feinstein’s remedy does not affect the Administration’s authority to fire attorneys. Presidents will still be able to fire a federal attorney for any reason. Her bill simply alters the process for hiring new attorneys, thus decreasing the abilities of the Administration to gain politically from the hirings and firings.

The bill would reverse the change made in the Patriot act and reinstate the law that was in place from 1986-2006. It strikes out the section that was changed and replaces it with the following:

>The United States district court for a district in which the office of the United States attorney is vacant may appoint a United States attorney to serve until that vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.

Basically, the bill would allow the Attorney General to fill any vacancies with an interim U.S. Attorney for up to 120 days. During the 120 days, the President must present a nominee to the Senate and have the nomination confirmed. If he fails to do so, the power to appoint an interim U.S. Attorney falls to the district court.

Photo by icki

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