Feinstein Questions Mukasey on Disbanding of LA Public Corruption Unit

Last week, the U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles disbanded his office’s public corruption unit.

Current and former prosecutors from the office said that the move will hurt the office’s ability to take on crooked pols (while LA USA Thomas O’Brien has argued the opposite). We also posted an email from a former prosecutor in the office saying that O’Brien may have handled the move badly (by reportedly threatening lawyers in the unit to stay quiet about the move), but he’s “no Rachel Paulose.”

Given that the major role that the LA office plays, however, (including its handling of the investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wants some answers about the move. So yesterday she sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey — who, perhaps coincidentally, is giving a speech today in California about the Department’s public corruption efforts.

You can read the letter in full below.

March 26, 2008

The Honorable Michael Mukasey
Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

I write to express my concern about the recent decision to eliminate the public corruption section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

According to press reports, the 17 Assistant United States Attorneys assigned to the public corruption/environmental crimes unit in the Los Angeles office are being reassigned to other sections within the office. Public corruption cases will now apparently be mixed in with other types of cases and handled by a larger pool of prosecutors, rather than by a specialized section. Press articles have also mentioned the low morale and ill will that this decision has generated among prosecutors in the Los Angeles office, as well as the need to train new prosecutors to bring them up to speed on the complexities involved in corruption investigations.

While I respect the need for U.S. Attorney’s to make necessary management decisions, I have serious concerns about the potential impact of this change.

The decision raises serious questions about the future of public corruption cases, and whether they will be as vigorously pursued in the Central District of California especially given all the turn over and disruption that has occurred. And now, by eliminating the corruption unit, I am concerned that the Los Angeles office is sending a message that these cases will not receive sufficient attention, resources, and leadership.

Public corruption cases are ranked first on the FBI list of criminal priorities, ahead of fraud and organized crime – the units that will now apparently have the primary responsibility for prosecuting corruption cases in Los Angeles. There appears to be a disconnect between the FBI and the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s office on this issue. I want to ensure that these cases will be vigilantly pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Please provide me with the Department of Justice’s rationale behind eliminating the public corruption unit in Los Angeles, including the specific facts, statistics, and circumstances that drove this decision. What initiated this decision? Who was consulted before making this decision? What was the role of Main Justice and the White House, if any? Did any of the DOJ’s prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section have any input into the decision-making process? How will this decision affect the public corruption cases that have been and are currently being investigated in Los Angeles?

I would appreciate your immediate attention to this issue, and look forward to your response to my letter.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

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