The administration is replacing U.S. Attorneys throughout the country. How'd they get that power?
It was an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, and it didn't take them very long to use it. The president signed it into law in March of last year -- by June, they were already moving to replace unwanted prosecutors.
Former Arkansas USA Bud Cummins told
the Wall Street Journal that "a top Justice official asked for his resignation in June, saying the White House wanted to give another person the opportunity to serve." Cummins was finally forced out in December, replaced with Timothy Griffin
, formerly the research director of the Republican National Committee.Section 502
of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, which was first drafted in July of 2005 and finally signed in March of 2006, changed the law
regarding the appointment of U.S. Attorneys. Whereas before the relevant federal district court would have appointed a replacement within 120 days after the Attorney General picked one, now that pick stood without challenge.
How did this (brief, legalistically worded, but powerful) section get in to the bill? It's not clear. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has consistently referred to the provision as "little noticed." What is clear is that Feinstein and her colleagues did not expect the provision to be used in this way. We'll have more on this as we learn more.