Does The President Get To Decide Who Will Be US Attorneys?

NOTE: My title is facetious - see Jeralyn on the process. In a WaPo article today, there seems to be some controversy about whether the President of the United States gets to decide who will be US Attorneys in his Administration:

One of the better spoils of winning the presidency is the power to appoint nearly 100 top prosecutors across the country. But filling the plum jobs has become a test of competing priorities for President Obama. While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, replacing the cadre of mostly conservative U.S. attorneys would signal a new direction. When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism in the conservative legal community and among career lawyers at the Justice Department.

President George W. Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors but keeping in place Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, while she pursued terrorism cases and a politically sensitive investigation of Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

(Emphasis supplied.) Is this accurate? Not really, according to this 2007 LATimes article:

In a March 4 memo titled "Draft Talking Points," Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos asked, "The [White House] is under the impression that we did not remove all the Clinton [U.S. attorneys] in 2001 like he did when he took office. Is that true?" That is mostly true, replied D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales. "Clinton fired all Bush [U.S. attorneys] in one fell swoop. We fired all Clinton [U.S. attorneys] but staggered it out more and permitted some to stay on a few months," he said.

A few minutes later, Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul J. McNulty replied to the same memo. "On the issue of Clinton [U.S. attorneys], we called each one and had them give us a timeframe. Most were gone by late April. In contrast, Clinton [Justice Department] told all but a dozen in early March to be gone immediately," McNulty said.

The difference appears minor. Both McNulty and Sampson acknowledged that the Bush Administration, like the Clinton administration, brought in a new slate of U.S. attorneys within a few months of taking office. But historical data compiled by the Senate show the pattern going back to President Reagan. Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office. President Clinton had 89 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years, and President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years.

(Emphasis supplied.) It seems clear that a new Administration produces an almost entirely new slate of US Attorneys. And has done so for quite some time. Which brings me to the case of Mary Beth Buchanan, the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania:

Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who oversaw a recent FBI raid of fundraisers close to Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), told local reporters after the November election that she did not plan to voluntarily resign. Buchanan had held top political jobs in the Bush Justice Department, where she directed the office of violence against women and led the unit that oversees the nation's U.S. attorneys. She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society legal group and cultivated close connections to former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), an advocate for antiabortion and Christian groups.

"It doesn't serve justice for all the U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations at one time," Buchanan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. "I am open to continuing further service to the United States."

(Emphasis supplied.) Is it fair to ask Ms. Buchanan when she plans to resign? I think by the end of April should be plenty of time.

Speaking for me only

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    yes it's fair (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:45:36 AM EST
    The U.S. Attorneys job is a political plum and always has been. Typically, it's the two Senators from the state that make the recommendation to the President who should get the job for their district.

    Buchanan should go. She knew when she took the job it was for the duration of the Bush Administrations.

    The AUSA's are different, they stay.

    And, Obama is free (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:47:06 AM EST
    to reappoint any he wants to keep, such as Fitzgerald. Same way Mary Jo White stayed.

    These Bush-appointed USA's will be facing a bad job market but that's not Obama's problem.

    If one can't get (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by eric on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:52:12 PM EST
    a job after serving as US Attorney, God help us all.

    Clinton held on to Chertoff. (none / 0) (#16)
    by inclusiveheart on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:47:32 PM EST
    He was not "fired".

    They are political appointments (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by andgarden on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:47:47 AM EST
    who all should have handed Obama resignation letters on the afternoon of 1/20. Why he didn't fire those who did not resign is beyond me, because people like Ms. Buchanan should not be in a position to make decisions in a Democratic Administration.

    And each district must have hundreds of qualified Democrats.

    Fire them all right now (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by eric on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:54:49 AM EST
    and BTW, I am available in Minnesota.

    heh (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:55:31 AM EST
    Would you have any trouble getting confirmed by the Senate?

    It depends (5.00 / 5) (#9)
    by eric on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:19:17 AM EST
    on whether or not they read my comments here...

    Just make sure (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:23:01 AM EST
    he's paid his taxes!

    Western District Wisconsin (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Ben Masel on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:16:37 AM EST
    Dump Erik Peterson, who's made marijuana prosecutions his top priority.

    Fringe benefit: TChris gets less paying work, and has more time to blog.

    Exactly what a conservative friend of (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by oculus on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:18:09 AM EST
    mine (a state court judge) sd. this week in response to a non-lawyer friend's question about the 12 U.S. Attorneys terminated by Bush's Attorney General:  entirely discretionary..

    Squatters (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Radiowalla on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:33:09 AM EST
    The Bush Republicans have a penchant for squatting and not budging.

    We had The Squatter-in-Chief who laid claim to the White House in 2000.  We have many of his political appointees who are now "burrowed" in civil service jobs across many agencies.  We have certain US attorneys who just won't move along.  

    Maybe Obama needs a good real estate lawyer to evict all of them.

    People!..... Can we get a clue? (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by NYShooter on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 12:50:58 PM EST
    Eight REPUBLICAN U.S. Attorneys were fired for refusing to be 100% corrupt. Presumably, 70-80% rot wasn't good enough to make the final cut in the Gonzales (excuse me while I enjoy a projectile vomit) "justice" Dept.

    Are we starting to "get it" now? All attention has been on these few attorneys; while the 80 or so others crawled all over themselves doing to the Constitution what our gitmo interrogators did to the Quran.

    I never understood why the irony of that didn't make headlines.

    (I didn't really wonder; our Media never understood that breaking the law was against the law.)

    Please see this post (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:52:29 AM EST
    Who Are They Kidding? (none / 0) (#12)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 12:22:10 PM EST
     WaPo's willful misrepresentation is shameless. Who would ever believe the revisionist history that BushCo was even slightly bipartisan about anything?

    So Clinton fired them all in one stroke! (none / 0) (#13)
    by hairspray on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 12:35:30 PM EST
    Good for him!  He knew that they would be trouble if he left them in place.  Here in California we have an ethically challenged Democratic State Senator that the FBI has been investigating for 5 years. Finally the Federal Attorney is SF said there wasn't enough evidence and dropped the case. But immediately, and uncharacteristically, the Sacramento atty picked up the case.  Everyone is crying fowl.  But when you see who appointed the Sacramento guy (GWB) it begins to make sense.  This state senator is one of the most powerful in CA and I am sure that the GOP state senators have been behind this FBI caper trying to get him out. If you have ever read "The woman who wouldn't talk" by S. MacDougal, you realize how unprincipled the GOP is in that they are willing to use the justice system for their personal vendettas.

    I mean foul! (none / 0) (#15)
    by hairspray on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:37:59 PM EST
    Yes it is Perata. He has been (none / 0) (#24)
    by hairspray on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 05:56:23 PM EST
    termed out of the state senate and while there have been some issues with him that do not pass the smell test it is clear that there isn't enough evidence to bring an indictment.  He is like a latter day Willie Brown only not as powerful.  The idea that the FBI is still operating under the Bush rules angers me.  I hope Obama gets rid of these guys soon.  And yes as a Californian I do remember the Willie Brown chronicles.

    The difference is that (none / 0) (#18)
    by ding7777 on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 02:55:17 PM EST
    the Reagan/Bush US Attorneys did not offer the Clinton Administration the customary resignation letter forcing a so-called "firing"

    And yes, all of Clinton's US Attorneys did submit a resination letter to Ascroft.

    I hadn't heard about this before (none / 0) (#19)
    by eric on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 04:03:53 PM EST
    where did you find this?  I would love a link for some background.

    Which part? (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by ding7777 on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:05:09 PM EST
    Reno could not have "fired" 93 USAs if they had offered letters of resignation (see Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who told local reporters after the November election that she did not plan to voluntarily resign.)

    But for some Reagan background:

    On May 9, 1981, according to the Washington Post, the Reagan administration was well on its way to replacing all of the U.S. attorneys. A Justice Department spokesman told the Post that William French Smith, the new attorney general, had received nominations for 55 of the 94 U.S. attorney positions so far.

    Smith was taking nominations, of course, because those positions needed to be filled. As the Post helpfully explained: "Although U.S. attorneys are appointed for four-year terms, it is customary for them to submit their resignations at the start of a new administration."

    And from the Bush Administration

    Attorney General Ashcroft said, "We are committed to making this an orderly transition to ensure effective, professional law enforcement that reflects the President 's priorities."

    In January of this year, nearly all presidential appointees from the previous administration offered their resignations. Two Justice Department exceptions were the United States Attorneys and United States Marshals

    Thanks (none / 0) (#21)
    by eric on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:51:44 PM EST
    I appreciate it.

    Buchanan should stay (none / 0) (#25)
    by msobel on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 12:34:11 PM EST
    So that she could be questioned under under oath and implicate Rove. If she does not answer the questions or purjures herself, she would be liable to prosecution.  If she is not a government employee, she can plead the 5th.