Stalled Lewis Probe Rolls Backwards

The U.S. attorney office in Los Angeles just can’t seem to muster the manpower needed to investigate senior Republican appropriator Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). In fact, it seems that the Justice Department is handicapping itself.

The veteran prosecutor who’d been heading up the Lewis case has been forced into retirement, The Los Angeles Daily Journal reported yesterday (not available online). It knocks the investigation, already stalled, further off course.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that budget shortages and the departure of top prosecutors from the office had caused the investigation to slow down since last fall. But the Journal noted that the interim U.S. attorney George Cardona (the prior U.S.A. Debra Yang left last year under questionable circumstances) had tapped veteran prosecutor Michael Emmick in June to “jump-start” the investigation.

So much for that.Robert Iafolla reports in the Daily Journal:

Because of civil-service rules, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. attorney’s office who just recently took over the probe of Rep. Jerry Lewis must exit the office for good by the end of September, marking the third significant departure from the office’s corruption unit since Lewis first came under suspicion last year.

Michael Emmick, who first joined Los Angeles’s U.S. attorney’s office in 1982, has been serving under one-year appointments since 2004, after he triggered a contractual clause that will allow him to collect retirement benefits immediately upon leaving the office.

“I was under the impression I could continue to work as long as I liked” after taking early retirement status, Emmick said. “The [Los Angeles U.S. attorney’s] office made requests, but DOJ said three years is enough.”

Interim U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona said internal policy is designed to limit extensions. The Justice Department “extended it for important cases, but it finally got to the point that it was no longer willing to extend the temporary appointments,” he said.

It’s not clear from Cardona’s remark why the Lewis case, which centers on whether Lewis abused his position atop the House appropriations committee, wouldn’t qualify as an “important” case.

The AP picks up the story today and puts the news, fittingly, in the broader context of the U.S. attorney firings scandal. Remember that Yang left office just before the firings, leading Democrats to question whether she’d been forced out — speculation stoked by news that then-White House counsel Harriet Miers had discussed replacing her. The fact that she’d joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm that’s defending Lewis, intensified the scrutiny. Yang herself has insisted that she left voluntarily in order to cash in (she’s a single mom, she explained) and that she’d been recused from the Lewis case at her new firm.