Friday, May 4, 2007

Mr. Comey Returns to Washington

A former deputy attorney general lavished praise yesterday on most of the eight U.S. attorneys who were fired after he left the job, testifying that only one of them had serious performance problems.

James B. Comey, former deputy attorney general and second in command at the Justice Department from 2003 until August 2005, appeared before a House Judiciary subcommittee today. NPR described his testimony as “sliding a knife between the Attorney General’s ribs, and slowly twisting.”

Comey was a highly regarded prosecutor and now is chief council for Lockheed Martin. Never in his testimony did he so much as raise his voice. He didn’t need to. He came to tell the truth, apparently, and it looks like that is exactly what he did. His testimony was widely seen as undermining the Attorney Generals claims that nothing unusual occurred, the prosecutors had been fired for performance problems. His testimony also underscored the degree to which the firings, which originated in the White House, were handled outside the normal channels at main Justice.

In his testimony, he averred that although he was the direct supervisor in charge of all U.S. Attorneys, he was never informed about the planned purge of U.S. Attorneys that began in early 2005.

"My experience with the U.S. attorneys just listed was very positive," Comey said, referring to six of the former prosecutors who testified in Congress in March. He added that the reasons given for their firings "have not been consistent with my experience" and that "I had very positive encounters with these folks."

I guess “positive encounters” is apt – if not understated…

He described Paul K. Charlton of Arizona as "one of the best," said he had a "very positive view" of David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, and called Daniel G. Bogden of Las Vegas "straight as a Nevada highway and a fired-up guy." Of John McKay of Seattle, Comey said: "I was inspired by him."

Perhaps most damaging to the Justice Department was Comey's description of Carol C. Lam of San Diego as "a fine U.S. attorney." He acknowledged that he was concerned about Lam's record on firearms cases but said he had discussed the issue with her and did not see it as a firing offense.

Comey said that while he was deputy attorney general he did not have much interaction with fired prosecutor Bud Cummins of Little Rock. But he called Cummins a "good man" in a recent e-mail exchange released yesterday, adding that he "will not sit by and watch good people smeared."

Comey’s appearance followed by one day the revelation that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into former Gonzales aide aide , Monica Goodling to determine if she applied an illegal political test when considering applicants for Justice Department jobs.

Goodling has resigned her position and refused to testify before congress (although I seriously doubt that tack works out so very well for her...)

Comey was visibly uneasy at the prospect of a political litmus test being applied to the hiring process of attorneys working for the Justice Department “very troubling.” He went on…"I don't know how you would put that genie back in the bottle, if people started to believe we were hiring our AUSAs for political reasons.”

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