And unlike in the current controversy, in one case there was clear cause and in the other, public political conflict. Reportedly, in 1984 President Reagan dismissed J. William Petro, US Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, for having loose lips. Petro was later convicted of disclosing information about an indictment. Sounds like cause to me.
Reagan also dismissed William Kennedy, US Attorney for the Southern District of California, in 1982, reportedly for asserting that the CIA had pressured DOJ to pressure him not to pursue a case. Sounds like publicly arguing with your boss. Nothing like today's cases. And besides, it's only one, not eight.
No wonder the eight felt compelled to defend themselves by speaking out!
CRS could not find an explanation for the departure of three US Attorneys; all were appointed by the current President Bush. They are Humberto Garcia, who served (PR) from March 2003 - January 2007; Thomas M. DiBiagio, who served (MD) from September - October 2001; and Roscoe Conklin Howard, Jr., who served (DC) from August - September 2001.
And there are three who left after unfavorable press reports: Kendall Coffey (FL), May 1996; Larry Colleton (FL) in July 1994; and Frank L. McNamara (MA), January 1989.
Of the remaining US Attorneys who left office before the end of their four-year term (discounting departures associated with the three changes in Administrations), the largest group (18) left to become a judge. Another 15 moved into private practice; six took other executive branch positions; four ran for office; two changed from federal to state government service; and one died.
About The Office
The position of US Attorney was created in the Judiciary Act of 1789, one of the first laws of our country. In 1870, Congress created the Department of Justice. The US Attorneys became part of this agency.
Today, there are 93 US attorneys serving the country's 94 district courts; one attorney serves both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands district courts. Their duties: to prosecute violations of federal civil and criminal law and to defend the US in civil actions.
The President appoints US attorneys for four-year terms, and the Senate confirms the appointments.
Until 1986, when there was a vacancy, federal district judges selected an interim or temporary US Attorney, giving the President time to appoint a qualified replacement who was confirmed by the Senate.
Congress changed the rules in 1986. The roles became reversed. The Administration -- in the guise of the Attorney General -- appointed the interim US Attorney. If the Senate did not approve the nomination within 120 days, then the district judges could appoint a replacement until the President got a nominee through the Senate.
Last year, behind the closed doors of a conference committee, Republican leadership completely removed the district judges and the Senate from the "interim" process. In the event of a vacancy, the Attorney General can appoint an interim US attorney .... until a replacement is confirmed. No deadline. Hence my jaded observation: power grab.
Mixing Partisanship With Law
Lincoln Caplan, writing in :
The country's 93 U.S. attorneys transform from political appointees into public servants when they join the Justice Department. Once in place, they gain a significant measure of independence. For most crimes, they have the power to indict without approval from "Main Justice," the Washington, D.C. headquarters. This independence is "vital to ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice," in the words of Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney who worked in the Justice Department for both Republican and Democratic attorneys general.
Yes, Virginia, there's more to this story than yet revealed.
What The Meme Leaves Out: Reagan Did It Too!
Oh -- returning to the Clinton meme for a moment. First, Janet Reno asked all 93 US Attorneys to resign in March 1992. Publicly. In a press conference. It may have been a stupid move, but it wasn't a hidden one. And according to the elder Bush's outgoing Attorney General, Stuart M. Gerson, Clinton did what Reagan did (never mind that it's not what GWB has done):
The Reagan administration, for example, acted in its own interests much the same as the Clinton administration had in its when it sought the prompt removal of all U.S. Attorneys from the previous administration, notwithstanding the fact that most of the persons whose nominations were to be submitted had not been selected and many interim persons would be required.
They were asked to resign -- but in at least one case, the resignation appears to have been amicable. Here's John A. Smietanka, rormer United States Attorney for the Western District of Michigan:
Later in 1981 President Reagan nominated me and the United States Senate confirmed me as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. In 1985, I was renominated and confirmed for a second four year term. When President George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988, I continued to serve as United States Attorney until January 1, 1994.
I resigned effective on January 1, 1994, upon the confirmation of my successor, Michael Dettmer, the presidentially-appointed United States Attorney of former President Clinton.
I served as U.S. Attorney for 3 Presidents (Reagan, Bush and Clinton) and 5 Attorney Generals (Smith, Meese, Thornburgh, Barr and Reno) and several acting Attorney Generals.
The transitions of the United States Attorney's Office in Western Michigan from the Carter to Reagan/Bush to Clinton United States Attorneys were almost seamless, with each of us cooperating completely and enthusiastically to ensure a smooth and effective transition. Jim Brady and Bob Greene remain good friends of mine.
So there you have it. Reagan and Clinton cleaned house, so to speak, when they assumed the office of President. This Bush is selectively cleaning house mid-term, in a manner unprecedented, at least in recent history.