A Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Federal Prosecutor Firings

30Mar07

The attorney firing controversy has been all over the news recently. To be completely honest, I didn’t really know what the whole thing even meant. So, I spent a couple hours, read a short book, did some research, and am now the world’s greatest expert on all things federal prosecution. This post will be useful to all those readers like myself who’ve been reading about A. Gonzales again and again without the foggiest idea of what it all means.

To start: what is a federal prosecutor? Here’s the simplest way to think of it: federal prosecutors are basically “America’s lawyers.” They represent the United States of America in any case that the US is involved (ex: US vs. John Doe) in much the same way that a lawyer would represent you in a case you were involved in. There are 93 federal prosecutors, each assigned to one of 93 “districts.” Bigger states have more districts, smaller states have fewer. Federal prosecutors (or “US Attorneys”) are appointed for four year terms by the President, and confirmed by the Senate. That was pretty easy. Now: what’s an attorney general? An attorney general is the “head” of all the federal prosecutors, and can be thought of as their boss. The attorney general also represents the United States of America in any Supreme Court case in which the US is involved while normal fed. Prosecutors can only represent in local cases. This representation isn’t the attorney general’s only power though. The A.G. (which fittingly stands for both Attorney General and Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General, I just realized) can appoint interim federal prosecutors when there are vacancies. According to governing statute, title 28, section 546 of the United States Code, “(c) A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the earlier of—(1) the qualification of a United States attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title; or (2) the expiration of 120 days after appointment by the Attorney General under this section. (d) If an appointment expires under subsection (c)(2), the district court for such district may appoint a United States attorney to serve until the vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.”

In English: appointments by the A.G. only last for 120 days, or until Mr. President appoints a “real” F.P. himself. But hold on a minute! “I heard about all these firings,” you say. “From what you’re telling me now, the A.G. doesn’t have that much power… or only 120 days worth of it. Right?”

Not if Mr. Bush has anything to do with it. In March 2006, via the Patriot Act, Bush conveniently did this:

(c) A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the earlier of—(1) the qualification of a United States attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title; or (2) the expiration of 120 days after appointment by the Attorney General under this section. (d) If an appointment expires under subsection (c)(2), the district court for such district may appoint a United States attorney to serve until the vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.”

Replacing it with this:(c) A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title.

The translation again: whoever the A.G. appoints can serve until Mr. Bush appoints a nomination himself. Now, what do you suppose would happen if Mr. Bush “forgot” to appoint someone? That’s right; Senate’s power to do anything is completely removed, and the A.G.’s “120 day appointment” power lasts indefinitely (ie forever).

Now comes the tricky(er) part. As I blogged a few days back, the Senate has voted to strike out what Mr. Bush managed to strike out last year. But if the House of Representatives wishes to neglect the second strike out and uphold the first strike out, the Senate vote means nothing. Similarly, even if the House approves the strike out of the strike out, Mr. Bush always has the handy veto at hand to strike out the strike out of the strike out. All in all, it’s a pretty ingenious way to strike out three branch government system (at least on this issue).

Whew, that was a pretty nifty paragraph. Understanding the rest of the controversy is smooth sailing from here on out. Over the course of the last year, numerous firings of federal prosecutors have occurred (specifically, eight). Many Democrats have been particularly incensed, saying the firings were politically motivated. Also shown recently was the fact that the eight fired prosecutors could be potentially harmful to Republicans. For example, California prosecutor Carol Lam was fired immediately following her successful prosecution of Republican Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham.

Alberto Gonzales repeatedly denied that he was personally connected with the firings. In his own words, “[I] was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.” Today, his former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson did everything but claim outright that A.G. had lied, saying, “”I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. Attorneys to resign, and I believe that he was present at the meeting on November 27th.”

Numerous Republicans have vocally expressed their dislike of Gonzales’ conduct including such prominent leaders as Arlene Specter. The only politician who has expressed firm support for Gonzales (instead of merely alleging that he is “not guilty”) is, not surprisingly, Mr. Bush himself. The “go-between” of the White House and (the) A.G. has refused to testify, invoking the fifth amendment.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post on what an A.G. is, who A.G. is, what a F.G. is, how the system works, and hopefully you’ll understand what’s going on when (the) A.G. testifies next in three weeks. Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask any questions in comments.

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9 Responses to “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Federal Prosecutor Firings”

  1. Hey, I appreciated that summary. Saved me the time of having to mull through the details of yet another tiresome political squabble.

  2. No problem.

  3. 3 notsosmartgirl

    Thanks for the info!

  4. 4 My Name

    It is PRESIDENT Bush, you chump.

  5. 5 sillvestra jombok

    It is RESIDENT bush you chimp.

  6. 6 RikkiLin

    “Not if Mr. Bush has anything to do with it. In March 2006, via the Patriot Act, Bush conveniently did this:”

    Hrm…nice try, but in order for an Act to become the law of the land, it has to pass the Legislative body (House and Senate).

    See how your senators voted here: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=107&session=1&vote=00313

    See how your representatives voted here:
    http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2001/roll398.xml

    So, to say that “Bush conveniently did this…” is erroneous at the least and shows your bias. The executive branch of the government does NOT make laws. Yes, the President of the United States DOES have the power to Veto bills sent to him that have been passed by both houses of Congress (see initial Iraq funding bill), but he does NOT have the power to introduce a bill, nor does he have the power to make law.

    Might be nice if you got your facts straight before regurgitating the stuff from Wikipedia.

  7. Hey Rikki,

    Thanks for the junior high government lesson, but I’d like to clarify that by “Bush” I meant the “Bush administration.” Trust me, I’m not under the impression that one guy runs the entire government. Additionally, Congress was under Republican control when the law passed; I categorized this as another act of the Bush administration, which indeed it was.

    As far as my bias goes, sure we all have some. What’s important is that we keep it as much out of our work as possible, and I believe that this article was objective for the most part. Feel free to disagree, and thanks for your comment.


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