Schumer: “We Will Get to The Bottom of This”

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February 15, 2007 1:45 p.m.
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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), speaking on the Senate floor this afternoon, vowed to “get to the bottom” of the administration’s December purge of federal prosecutors, and said that if they found that the prosecutors had indeed received positive job evaluations from the Justice Department before being booted, “there will be real trouble.”

Democrats had sought to push through a bill today that would restore the law on U.S. Attorneys back to its earlier form, before a change was slipped into the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act last year. That change effectively allowed the administration to permanently appoint U.S. Attorneys without Senate confirmation. The bill would set a 120 day deadline to those appointments, when a federal judge would appoint a permanent replacement if the president hadn’t nominated one for the Senate to confirm — which is the way the law was for twenty years before last year’s change.

But the bill was blocked by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who, along with the administration, argues that having judges appoint federal proscutors raises separation of powers issues.

In response, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Schumer and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) all gave speeches, Feinstein offering a prolonged tribute to U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, the prosecutor who sent Duke Cunningham to prison, and indicted the former #3 at the CIA on Tuesday. Lam is one of the seven ousted prosecutors; her last day is today. Portions of Leahy’s remarks are below, and we’ll try to get you a transcript of Feinstein’s remarks soon.

Update: Feinstein’s remarks have been added below.From Sen. Leahy’s remarks:

In our hearing last week, Paul McNulty, the second in command at the Department of Justice, testified that Mr. Cummins’ dismissal was not related to how well he did his job. In fact, Mr. McNulty said he had no “performance problems,” but was removed merely to give an opportunity to Mr. Griffin, a person whom he admitted was not the “best person possible” for the job and who is reported to have been involved in an effort during the 2004 election to challenge voting by primarily African-American voters serving in the Armed Forces overseas. This was not a vacancy created by necessity or emergency. This was a vacancy created by choice to advance a political crony.

And on the administration’s Constitutional separation of powers concerns:

I have heard not a word from the apologists who seek to use the Constitution as a shield for these activities about what the Constitution says. The Constitution provides congressional power to direct the appointment power. In Article II, the part of the Constitution that this Administration reads as if it says that all power resides with the President, the President’s appointment power is limited by the power of Congress. Indeed, between its provisions calling for appointments with the advice and consent of the Senate and for the President’s limited power to make recess appointments, the Constitution provides: “But the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the Heads of Departments.” Thus, the Constitution contemplates exactly what our statutes and practices have always provided. Congress is well within its authority when it vests in the courts a share of the appointment power for those who appear before them.

From Sen. Feinstein’s statement:

Let me talk about a few of the U.S. attorneys involved. According to press reports, at least three were given glowing reviews from their performance audits in the recent past. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Daniel Bogden, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada, said Wednesday that he was stunned to hear the Department of Justice requested that he step down from his post because of performance reasons. He went on to say: “To this date, no one from the department has previously identified any issues with my performance or the performance of my office.”

A similar story has surfaced about Washington U.S. Attorney John McKay. The Seattle Times reported last week: “Seven months before he was forced to resign as U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington, John McKay received a glowing performance review from Justice Department evaluators.”

The article went on to quote the report which stated: “McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the [U.S. attorney’s office]”…according to the team of 27 Justice Department officials.

Yet on December 7th, Michael Battle, director of the Justice Department’s executive office for U.S. attorneys, called McKay and asked him to step down.

“I was told to resign by the end of January,” McKay confirmed…”I asked what the reason was, and they told me there was none.”

Then, of course, there is former-Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins. In a story that ran last month, Mr. Cummins stated that the Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, Michael Battle, made it clear that although he was being asked to leave, “it was not about me but about their desire to give someone else the opportunity to have the appointment.”

Mr. Cummins said he specifically asked if his job performance was a problem when he got the call: “[Mr. Battle] assured me it was exactly to the contrary.”

These are three cases that have been documented where U.S. attorneys did not have any performance-related concerns as alleged by the Department. In addition, I have heard similar reports about other U.S. attorneys. I want to speak in specific about one. That is the U.S. Attorney from San Diego, CA.

Today is U.S. Attorney Carol Lam’s last day in office. I want to commend her. I thank her for the work she has done in that office. She was sworn in as U.S. attorney in September of 2002 and was appointed by the President in November 2002. Prior to serving as U.S. attorney, she was a judge of the Superior Court of San Diego, and she served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of California for 11 years. So she was no newcomer. She has been successful in bringing many of the country’s most important corruption cases. I want to go through a few of them.

In March of 2004, Steven Mark Lash, the former chief financial officer of FPA Medical Management, was sentenced for his role in defrauding shareholders and lenders of FPA. The collapse of the company left more than 1,600 doctors being owed more than $60 million and patients reported being unable to obtain medical care because FPA had ceased paying providers. Thank you, Carol Lam.

In January 2005, Mark Anthony Kolowich, owner of World Express Rx, pled guilty to conspiracy to selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and smuggle pharmaceuticals, and conspiracy to launder money. Mr. Kolowich had run an Internet pharmacy Web site where customers could order prescription drugs without a valid prescription. The judge called him the kingpin and architect of an elicit pharmaceutical ring that recruited many others to smuggle drugs across the United States-Mexico border at San Ysidro. Ms. Lam also announced that charges had been filed against five other individuals in a related case involving MyRxForLess.com. Thank you, Carol Lam.

In July 2005, Ms. Lam brought a case against San Diego councilman Ralph Inzunza and Las Vegas lobbyist Lance Malone. They were convicted on multiple counts of extortion, wire fraud conspiracy, and wire fraud. They were accused of trading money for efforts to repeal a law.

In November 2005, Ms. Lam secured a guilty plea from former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham for taking more than $2 million in bribes in a criminal conspiracy case involving at least three defense contractors, after he accepted cash and gifts and then tried to influence the Defense Department on behalf of donors. He also pled guilty to a separate tax evasion violation for failing to disclose income in 2004. Thank you, Carol Lam.

In addition, earlier this week, Carol Lam announced two more indictments of Kyl “Dusty” Foggo, former top officer at the CIA, and Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor accused of bribing Duke Cunningham and the prime benefactor of the secret CIA contracts. Thank you, Carol Lam.

This woman was called and told to resign by a date specific, after she has done all of this good work. Ms. Lam and the San Diego U.S. Attorney’s office have also pursued and successfully prosecuted other important cases, including:

In September 2005, the president of the San Diego chapter of Hell’s Angels pled guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. Guy Russell Castiglione admitted that he conspired to kill members of a rival motorcycle gang, the Mongols, and to sell methamphetamine. Thank you, Carol Lam.

Then in December 2005, Daymond Buchanan, member of Hells Angels, was sentenced to 92 months in Federal prison for participating in a pattern of racketeering. He admitted in his guilty plea that he and other Hell’s Angels also inflicted serious bodily injury upon one victim and that another Hell’s Angel brandished a firearm during the offense.

At that time, Ms. Lam announced, “With the president, sergeant at arms, secretary, treasurer, and six other members of the Hell’s Angels convicted of racketeering charges and facing long prison sentences, the San Diego chapter of the Hell’s Angels has been effectively shut down for the foreseeable future.” Thank you, Carol Lam.

And what does she get? Fired without cause.

In September, 2006, Jose Ernesto Beltran-Quinonez, a Mexican national, pleaded guilty to making false statements about weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Quinonez was sentenced to 3 years in Federal prison for making up a story about Chinese terrorists sneaking into the United States with a nuclear warhead. That hoax prompted a massive investigation, Federal warnings, discussions at one of President Bush’s security briefings, and a nationwide hunt for the group of Chinese supposedly plotting the attack. Thank you, Carol Lam.

In December 2006, Mel Kay, of Golden State Fence Company, and Michael McLaughlin, pleaded guilty to felony charges of hiring illegal immigrants and agreed to pay fines of $200,000 and $100,000, respectively. The company, which built more than a mile of the 15-foot-high fence near the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego, agreed separately to pay $5 million on a misdemeanor count, one of the largest fines ever imposed on a company for an immigration violation. Thank you, Carol Lam.

These are just some of the important cases Carol Lam has pursued during her tenure. She does not deserve this kind of treatment.

In addition, during her previous time in the office, Ms. Lam prosecuted and convicted several high-ranking members of La Cosa Nostra, a Chicago-based organized crime family. She also secured a guilty plea and settlement of $110 million against National Health Laboratories, Inc., in a Medicare fraud case.

Ms. Lam has had a distinguished career and she served the Southern District of San Diego well, and everyone in that district knows that. I regret that main Justice does not. I am quite disappointed that main Justice chose to remove her, especially given the ongoing work in which the office is involved.

Now, like Senator Schumer, I was present yesterday when the Justice Department briefed us and several other Senators as to why they asked these U.S. attorneys to leave. With the record I just pointed out, nothing that was said yesterday justifies asking this U.S. attorney to leave without cause — nothing. That is why this is an issue. I believe their intent was to bring in people from the outside to give some of their bright young people an opportunity. This might not be wrong, if they weren’t also attempting to avoid confirmation. Without confirmation, the Department of Justice could bring in political operatives or anybody else. That is wrong.

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