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Spotlight on Paul Charlton, Arizona

Timothy Smith
Original Publication Date
Paul Charlton

The Curious Tale of Paul Charlton

While serving the state of Arizona as US Attorney, Paul Charlton garnered a good reputation with many organizations, from the local to the national level. Nominated by George W. Bush and approved by the Senate in 2001, Charlton spent five years creating a reputation that had the FBI calling him supportive and proactive, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) calling him outstanding and dedicated, and local officials said he was responsive and diplomatic.

During his tenure as the Arizona U.S. Attorney, Charlton established the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC), a program that has improved communication and coordination between law enforcement agencies; a National Security Division within the U.S. Attorney' s Office to actively work with law enforcement agencies on terrorism related criminal cases, and expanded the Victim Advocate staff in his office to better serve crime victims. In 2002, the U.S. Attorney' s Office Victim Witness Program was awarded the Federal Service Award, and this December the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office would serve as a national "Model Program."1

Not bad work for a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Attorney's office, and clearly not the kind of person you'd expect to make waves or cause trouble for his superiors. So it's surprising to discover that Charlton was one of seven US Attorneys that were asked to resign by the Administration on December 7th, 2006.

It is still a mystery why these seven were asked to step down. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the six U.S. attorneys in the West and Southwest had been dismissed for "performance-related" reasons. In an article published in the Washington Post, Dan Eggen reports that:

Five of the dismissed prosecutors -- Bogden, Charlton, Cummins, Iglesias and McKay -- told reporters they were not given any reason for their firings and had not been told of any performance problems. Only one of the fired prosecutors, Ryan in San Francisco, faced substantive complaints about turnover or other management-related issues, officials said.

Justice Department officials in recent days have sought to clarify the performance comments, saying the dispute is mired in "semantics." The officials said McNulty was referring to policy differences between the Bush administration and some of its employees. One official also said the department had not made a list of replacements ahead of time.

But it wasn't until February 10th in an interview with Billy House and Dennis Wagner of The Arizona Republic that Charlton finally spoke out about his ouster.

Former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton said he left office in January for "principled reasons, not performance issues," as a deputy attorney general suggested this week.

Charlton, who was one of [seven] top federal prosecutors across the country forced to resign, said there had been "policy disputes" with his Justice Department higher-ups. Charlton spoke to The Arizona Republic on Friday in his first public comments since being asked to step down.


Charlton acknowledged that he was among the prosecutors who received a telephone call on Dec. 7 from Michael Battle, director of the Justice Department's executive office for U.S. attorneys, asking him to resign.

"I certainly was given no indication there were performance concerns," Charlton said.

Office Policy Disputes?

So if Charlton was held in such hight esteem by the organizations he had to work with, how could "office policy disputes" be used as an excuse for dismissal? According to an Associated Press report (reprinted in The Arizona Star):

Supporters of former U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton say he clashed with the Bush administration over the death penalty before he resigned in December.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods said Friday that the Justice Department pressed Charlton to apply the death penalty in certain cases, but Charlton resisted because he didn't believe it was the right thing to do.

Charlton spoke with Senator Jon Kyl when the request for his resignation had been made. In an effort to get the Department of Justice (DOJ) to rescind their request.

Even so, Charlton said that he told Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of the call and that Kyl agreed to speak to officials at the department on his behalf.

"Senator Kyl informed me that after his conversation with the Department of Justice that the department agreed they would reconsider their asking me to resign," Charlton said.

We have already outlined the high esteem Paul Charlton was held by the organizations he had to work with, so how could "office policy disputes" be used as an excuse for dismissal. From the Arizona Republic we have this brief explanation of the "office policy dispute":

"My understanding is that Paul Charlton's departure resulted from disagreements with the Department of Justice about some office policies," Kyl added. A spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he also believes Charlton "was an exemplary U.S. attorney."

The Replacement

January 31st was U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton's last day. Like others of the Gonzales Seven, his departure was forced. Arizona Republican Senators McCain and Kyl had submitted Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe and currently senior litigation counsel and tribal liaison for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, to the President as the replacement for Charlton. She's not been appointed, however, which left the Arizona district without a leader in charge of the 253 staff and Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) in four offices. The Associated Press reports:

So far President Bush hasn't made a nomination, so the Justice Department announced today that Daniel Knauss will serve as the interim U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona.

And The Arizona Republic reports:

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for Arizona, stressed that Knauss' appointment is a temporary measure. He said President Bush has yet to nominate a candidate for Senate approval, and Humetewa is not excluded from that process.



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