Ignoring example of Griffin, AP cast concerns about Patriot Act provision as Democratic speculationMay 24, 2007 7:08 PM EDT ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN
In a May 23 article on legislation passed by the House repealing a law that gave the Bush administration the power to appoint "interim" U.S. attorneys to serve indefinitely without Senate confirmation, the Associated Press reported that the change "will close a loophole that Democrats say could have permitted the White House to reward GOP loyalists with plum jobs as U.S. Attorneys." The AP later added, "Democrats say the White House tried to use that provision to fire troublesome prosecutors and replace them with loyalists." But it is not only Democrats who say this -- nor are their allegations mere speculation; what the AP characterized as Democrats' concerns have already been borne out. While the AP reported that "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has insisted that his intent is to submit all nominations to the Senate for confirmation," the administration has in fact taken advantage of the provision to allow a "GOP loyalist" to avoid Senate confirmation: Tim Griffin, the "interim" U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, has been serving for over 150 days -- and continues to serve -- without Senate confirmation. He has exceeded, by a month, the previous 120-day limit on "interim" appointments. Griffin is a former aide to White House senior adviser Karl Rove and a former research director at the Republican National Committee.
As the AP reported, "Congress renewed the Patriot Act last year with a new provision that allowed the president to appoint U.S. attorneys for an indefinite amount of time, thus avoiding Senate confirmation." The House-passed bill "would restore the process for temporarily replacing U.S. attorneys to what it was before Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act last year." As Media Matters for America has noted, under the previous law, the attorney general appointed interim U.S. attorneys who could serve only until the Senate confirmed a replacement or until 120 days had passed, whichever occurred first. After 120 days, the local federal district court could select an interim appointee to serve until the Senate confirmed a replacement.
But the AP article, written by Laurie Kellman, cast Democratic concerns regarding the provision as simply speculative:
The 306-114 vote gave the House's blessing to the Senate-passed bill, readying it for Bush's expected signature. It will close a loophole that Democrats say could have permitted the White House to reward GOP loyalists with plum jobs as U.S. attorneys.
Democrats say the White House tried to use that provision to fire troublesome prosecutors and replace them with loyalists.
While Kellman wrote that the concerns were with how the White House "could" or has "tried to" use the provision, the article omitted the example of "GOP loyalist" Griffin's appointment.
As noted by the weblog Think Progress, Gonzales reportedly appointed Griffin on December 20, 2006. A March 13 Washington Post article reported: "E-mails show that Justice officials discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment, as early as last August." On January 23, attorney John Wesley Hall filed a motion in federal court challenging Griffin's constitutional authority to prosecute his client for murder. But as the Arkansas Times' weblog, Arkansas Blog, noted on May 17, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele in Little Rock subsequently "reject[ed]" Hall's challenge and "explicitly held that Griffin held the position under the Patriot Act provision that allow unlimited appointments." While Griffin, on February 15, said he had "made the decision not to let [his] name go forward to the Senate," he has not been replaced as U.S. attorney.
As Media Matters has noted, Gonzales' former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson wrote in a December 19, 2006, email that the administration should seek the two Arkansas senators' approval for Griffin, but if they do not agree to support his nomination, the administration should stall and delay the process of finding a replacement for the rest of Bush's term in office:
I think we should gum this to death: ask the [Arkansas] Senators [Democrats Mark L. Pryor and Blanche L. Lincoln] to give Tim [Griffin] a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say, "no never" (and the longer we can forestall that, the better), then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in "good faith," of course.
The administration has said that it ultimately rejected Sampson's plan of action.