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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.

As Justin mentioned in his previous post, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) hit the administration hard on the floor of the Senate this morning for its unexplained "forced resignations" of federal prosecutors around the country.

Here's the video:

We hope to have a transcript of her remarks soon.

Update: We've pasted Sen. Feinstein's remarks below.

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During a floor speech on the topic moments ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the White House has told her it was replacing from five to 10 Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys with its own interim appointees.

We know of seven who have left during the last couple of months, many under unusual circumstances. Here is our list:

San Francisco - 1/16/07 - Kevin V. Ryan - unclear

Nevada - 1/15/07 - Daniel Bogden - pushed out

San Diego - 1/12/07 - Carole Lam - pushed out

New Mexico - 12/19/06 - David Igleslias - pushed out

Arizona - 12/19/06 - Paul K. Charlton - unclear

Seattle - 12/15/06 - John McKay - unclear; likely pushed out

Little Rock (Ark.) - 12/15/06 - Bud Cummins - pushed out

Feinstein said she also knew of seven, and listed those above. Curiously, she mentioned an eigthth -- from Texas. We haven't been able to identify that one.

There is an eighth recently-departed U.S. attorney we know of, which some readers have noted: Debra Wong Yang, the former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Calif. Yang was overseeing the investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). She announced her resignation in October 2006, but to date there hasn't been evidence that her departure was forced.

From the AP today, here's a selection of questions that Libby's lawyers want to put to prospective jurors:

What is your political party preference? Democrat, Republican, Independent or other?

Please describe any feelings you have about Vice President Cheney.

Based on what you know at this time, do you believe that the administration misled the American people to justify going to war?

Have you been following any of the recent political scandals involving Jack Abramoff, William Jefferson, Tom DeLay, Cynthia McKinney, or Mark Foley?

Do you have particularly strong feelings about the war in Iraq?

Based on what you know at this time, do you believe that the administration misled the American people to justify going to war?

Update: More questions here.

More fishiness with the U.S. Attorneys Office? U.S. Attorney for San Francisco Kevin V. Ryan is out, according to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). His office is handling the investigation into back-dating of stock options, among other high-profile cases.

Potential Libby Jurors to Get Politically Charged Questions Jury selection is set to begin today in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former Cheney chief of staff accused of perjury and obstruction in the Valerie Plame case. "[A]ttorneys for both sides want to ask potential jurors about their opinions of the Bush administration, political scandals and the Iraq war." Given that the trial's venue is DC, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 9-to-1, Libby and his attorneys will be hard-pressed to find sympathetic ears. (AP)

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Yesterday, the Iraqi government hanged two of Saddam Hussein's top henchmen, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, the former head of Hussein’s secret police, and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of his revolutionary court.

But this time, there was to be no chanting, no yelling, no loyalists of Moktada al-Sadr. Half as many people were allowed into the chamber. And those that were allowed in were forced to sign documents "saying they would behave with dignity and restraint." This time, it would be different.

Alas. From The New York Times:

After executioners in full-face balaclavas pulled black hoods over the two men’s heads, tightened nooses around their necks and pulled the lever opening the trapdoors, both fell like weights. But the hangmen’s calculations of weight, gravity and the momentum needed to snap their necks — a grim science that has produced detailed “drop charts” used for decades in hangings around the world — appeared, in Mr. Ibrahim’s case, to have gone seriously awry....

Iraqi officials who attended the hanging said the calculation in the case of Mr. Ibrahim, a 55-year-old of medium height and build, had allowed for a “drop” of eight feet — too much, according to at least one United States Army manual — and about that amount of thick yellow rope could be seen coiled at Mr. Ibrahim’s feet before the hanging.

The video showed his head being snapped off as the rope went taut, and ending up, still inside the hood, lying in the pit of the gallows about five feet from his headless body.

But... at least this time there was, as an aide to Prime Minister Maliki claimed, "No ethnics, no chanting, everything a very smooth transaction, everyone very well behaved?”

Maybe. As John Burns of the Times notes, reporters were only allowed to see the three-minute video of the hanging once -- and it was soundless.

When we noted Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) conversion to ethical purity last week, we appended a loud "Sike!"* to note our skepticism.

But it didn't take long for Doolittle to take it back himself. In an interview with McClatchy newspapers Friday, he backtracked on his key reform: severing his campaign's and committee's financial relationship with his wife, who had been getting a 15% commission on funds raised.

Though Doolittle trumpeted the decision last week, now he says that she "dropped his congressional campaign as a client, rather than him firing her." And by the way, she'll still be doing fundraising for his political action committee; it just won't be in the form of a commission.

A brand new man.

*Note: Language purists are encouraged to read the comments to our last post before writing us an email on the spelling of "sike."

Before joining the White House staff, former Dick Cheney aide "Scooter" Libby worked for a law practice that now represents Guantanamo detainees.

Libby -- "Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney" -- worked for the Philadelphia, Penn.-based firm Dechert LLP before the vice president hired him to be his chief of staff.

Last week, a senior Pentagon official joined conservative efforts to blackball law firms who provided legal assistance to detainees being held at the military's Guantanamo Bay prison. Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, called on corporations to sever ties to such firms in order to pressure them to drop their detainee clients. The Pentagon has disavowed the comments; Stimson has been silent.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald helped reunite Libby with his old firm, although it was likely a few years before Scooter had hoped: Libby retained Dechert partner Joseph Tate to help represent him through the Plame leak probe.

Dechert is the second detainee-loving law firm we've noted Libby is paying for his defense. The other is New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

Strange days? Less than a week after news broke that the Bush administration has forced the resignation of San Diego U.S. attorney Carole Lam, we learn that it has done the same to Daniel Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada.

According to today's Las Vegas Review-Journal, no one seems to know why he's been asked to leave before his term expires in 2008. As in Lam's ouster, there appear to be no charges of wrongdoing against Bogden.

An anonymous source inside Bogden's office told the Review-Journal that his management style had led to "low morale." However, the source said that was likely "partly Bogden's fault and partly the result of inadequate staffing and funding from the Justice Department."

Nevada's GOP senator, John Ensign, had recommended Bodgen for the post, and spoke to the paper for the record. "His priorities, to prevent terrorism and prosecute violent and drug crimes, have made our communities and families safer," he said.

The paper did not include a quote on the topic from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who also represents Nevada. However, it noted that a spokesperson for Reid said the lawmaker was in favor of legislation to prevent U.S. attorneys from being replaced without Senate approval.