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Alberto Gonzales: Gaming the System Again in Arizona?

Cho, Standingup and Roxy
Original Publication Date

Late Wednesday (1-31-07), a paragraph1 about Diane Humetewa as Republican Senators McCain's and Kyl's recommended replacement for resigning U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, one of the Gonzales Seven, disappeared from an The Arizona Republic article.


Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and President George W. Bush appointed Daniel Knauss to serve as interim instead.

As The Arizona Republic reports this morning:

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.

As an earlier ePluribus Media Journal article detailed, the "old" process2 for "hiring" a new U.S. Attorney to head up any of the 93 districts is traditionally a 3-parter:  The Senators from the state in which the district is located provide a list of suggestions to the President, the President appoints the nominee, and the Senate confirms the appointment.

The President customarily takes the recommendation of the senators from the nominee's home state who are of the same party as the President. If there are no senators from the President's party, the President gets recommendations from party leaders in the state.

Indeed, the tradition of "senatorial courtesy," as it is called, has at times been so entrenched that if the President disregarded these nominations, the individual would never make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.3

These are critical appointments because the U.S. Attorney in each district office is in charge of staff and the numerous Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) who work in them.  The Washington D.C. office has 350 AUSAs alone.

Only with this President, who as recently as Monday January 29th, 2007 signed an executive order4 establishing executive branch oversight in virtually every government agency, those suggestions from the duly-elected senators seem to be ignored, overlooked, or the system itself was gamed.

Ignoring the Senators' suggestions

In Arizona, January 31st was U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton's last day.  Like others of the Gonzales Seven, his departure was unexpected, if not forced.   Still, 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 AUSAs in four offices. Wednesday evening, 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.

Knauss currently is the chief assistant U.S. attorney for the district.

In Alaska, when Tim Burgess resigned in 2005 to take a seat on the federal bench, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Smith was appointed as Acting U.S. Attorney under the Vacancy Reform Act. Under the Vacancy Reform Act, AUSAs can only serve for 210 days as Acting U.S. Attorneys. Ms. Smith's appointment expired on August 22nd, 2006, without Gonzales or President Bush acting on any of the names suggested for the post.5 Senator Ted Stevens had this to say about how the "normal" process was subverted:

"We submitted some names, but Justice had one reason or another that they figured the person had a conflict, but they never really came with anything other than that we should find someone else."

When Gonzales and Bush nominated Nelson Cohen to the post, Senator Stevens was not hesitant in expressing his outrage.

According to a transcript provided by Senator Stevens' office to Corporate Crime Reporter, at a press conference on August 28 in Anchorage, Alaska, Senator Stevens was asked by a reporter -- "Who do you think should be U.S. Attorney?"

"Well not someone who comes from Pennsylvania, and that's a little problem I have right now, finding out what to do about that," Stevens said. "Because very clearly, I was called three weeks ago now, and told they had someone who they'd like to nominate from outside Alaska. And we said, "No, no. You're not going to do that. You can't do that. You don't do that in any other state. You're not going to do it in this one."

Things were not always such. Has any previous President of this country so ignored this country's Senators' advice about who should prosecute corruption within their districts?

But even this level of exerting Executive branch control of Judicial courts and prosecutions pales in comparison to the shenanigans that have Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas in an uproar over the appointment of 34-year old Tim Griffin, who seemingly was positioned as an AUSA in the Arkansas district office, after Gonzales began pressuring the U.S. Attorney there, Bud Cummins, to resign.  Apparently unsatisfied with Cummins' lack of speed in complying, Gonzales appointed Griffin as the U.S. Attorney on December 15, and notified Cummins that his resignation was considered effective on the 16th by cell phone.   Senator Pryor had no opportunity to either recommend or suggest any names as replacements.

Reporting in such news outlets as the Arkansas News Bureau was instrumental in bringing to light the Bush Administration's penchant for circumvention:

The appointment of Tim Griffin drew criticism from Arkansas senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both Democrats. Pryor accused the Bush administration of circumventing the traditional nomination process on behalf of a political ally.

The same is true for Senators Feinstein and Boxer.  Not only has the U.S. Attorney Carol Lam been forced to resign (effective February 15, 2007 in the midst of an ongoing and highly sensitive investigation), but Feinstein has publicly expressed her outrage.

In a speech on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today expressed concern about the fact that a number of U.S. Attorneys have been asked by the Department of Justice to resign their positions prior to the end of their terms and without cause.

In a little noticed provision included in the Patriot Act reauthorization last year, the Administration's authority to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys was greatly expanded. 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.

Senators Feinstein, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) last week introduced the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act, which would prevent further circumvention of the Senate's constitutional prerogative to confirm U.S. Attorneys and restore appointment authority to the appropriate District Courts.

What's at issue here is the circumventing of the checks and balances, the slow gathering of power away from the states, from the legislative branches, the judicial forces, and ultimately from the people.

Keep your eyes peeled on Nevada, where Daniel G. Bogden, another of The Gonzales Seven, will be stepping down February 28th.

1 The missing paragraph read:

Diane Humetewa, an assistant U.S. attorney and Hopi tribal member, has been recommended by Arizona's two U.S. senators to replace Charlton but has not been nominated for that position.

2 "Old" as in pre- March 2006 and the signing of the USA PATRIOT IMPROVEMENT AND REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005

3Senate's Role in Nomination and Confirmation Process: A Brief History. Updated March 29, 2005

4 From Robert Pear's January 30thNew York Times article:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Bush said each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House thus will have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president's priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that often have been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

5 United States Attorney's Office District of Alaska press release.

ePluribus Media Researchers, Contributors and Fact Checkers: A collaborative writing effort with several ePMedia researchers and bloggers: DC Pol Sci, Greyhawk, roxy, avahome, standingup, cho, Biblio, Carolita, ManEgee, and MarketTrustee