Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Opening Statement of William E. Moschella, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General,
Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law on H.R. 580,
Restoring Checks and Balances in the Confirmation Process of U.S. Attorneys
Washington, DC

March 6, 2007

Madam Chairman, Mr. Cannon, and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today.

Let me begin by stating clearly that the Department of Justice appreciates the public service that was rendered by the seven U.S. Attorneys who were asked to resign last December. Each is a talented lawyer who served as U.S. Attorney for more than four years, and we have no doubt they will achieve success in their future endeavors – just like the 40 or so other U.S. Attorneys who have resigned for various reasons over the last six years.

Let me also stress that one of the Attorney General’s most important responsibilities is to manage the Department of Justice. Part of managing the Department is ensuring that the Administration’s priorities and policies are carried out consistently and uniformly. Individuals who have the high privilege of serving as presidential appointees have an obligation to carry out the Administration’s priorities and policies.

U.S. Attorneys in the field (as well as Assistant Attorneys General here in Washington) are duty bound not only to make prosecutorial decisions, but also to implement and further the Administration and Department’s priorities and policy decisions. In carrying out these responsibilities they serve at the pleasure of the President and report to the Attorney General. If a judgment is made that they are not executing their responsibilities in a manner that furthers the management and policy goals of departmental leadership, then it is appropriate that they be asked to resign so that they can be replaced by other individuals who will.

To be clear, it was for reasons related to policy, priorities and management – what has been referred to broadly as “performance-related” reasons – that these U.S. Attorneys were asked to resign.  I want to emphasize that the Department – out of respect for the U.S. Attorneys at issue – would have preferred not to talk at all about those reasons, but disclosures in the press and requests for information from Congress altered those best laid plans.  In hindsight, perhaps this situation could have been handled better.  These U.S. Attorneys could have been informed at the time they were asked to resign about the reasons for the decision.  Unfortunately, our failure to provide reasons to these individual U.S. Attorneys has only served to fuel wild and inaccurate speculation about our motives, and that is unfortunate because faith and confidence in our justice system is more important than any one individual. 

That said, the Department stands by the decisions.  It is clear that after closed door briefings with House and Senate members and staff, some agree with the reasons that form the basis for our decisions and some disagree – such is the nature of subjective judgments.  Just because you might disagree with a decision, does not mean it was made for improper political reasons – there were appropriate reasons for each decision. 

One troubling allegation is that certain of these U.S. Attorneys were asked to resign because of actions they took or didn’t take relating to public corruption cases.  These charges are dangerous, baseless and irresponsible.  This Administration has never removed a U.S. Attorney to retaliate against them or interfere with or inappropriately influence a public corruption case.  Not once.

 The Attorney General and the Director of the FBI have made public corruption a high priority.  Integrity in government and trust in our public officials and institutions is paramount.   Without question, the Department’s record is one of great accomplishment that is unmatched in recent memory.  The Department has not pulled any punches or shown any political favoritism.  Public corruption investigations are neither rushed nor delayed for improper purposes.

Some, particularly in the other body, claim that the Department’s reasons for asking these U.S. Attorneys to resign was to make way for preselected Republican lawyers to be appointed and circumvent Senate confirmation.  The facts, however, prove otherwise.  After the seven U.S. Attorneys were asked to resign last December, the Administration immediately began consulting with home-state Senators and other home-state political leaders about possible candidates for nomination.  Indeed, the facts are that since March 9, 2006, the date the Attorney General’s new appointment authority went into effect, the Administration has nominated 16 individuals to serve as U.S. Attorney and 12 have been confirmed.  Furthermore, 18 vacancies have arisen since March 9, 2006.  Of those 18 vacancies, the Administration (1) has nominated candidates for six of them (and of those six, the Senate has confirmed three); (2) has interviewed candidates for eight of them; and (3) is working to identify candidates for the remaining four of them.  Let me repeat what has been said many times before and what the record reflects:  the Administration is committed to having a Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney in every single federal district.

In conclusion, let me make three points:  First, although the Department stands by the decision to ask these U.S. Attorneys to resign, it would have been much better to have addressed the relevant issues up front with each of them.  Second, the Department has not asked anyone to resign  to influence any public corruption case – and would never do so.  Third, the Administration at no time intended to circumvent the confirmation process.

I would be happy to take your questions.