And Yet Another DoJ Scandal

Brian Zick

Dan Eggen for WaPo reports: On Nov. 10, 2005, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales sent a letter to a federal judge in Montana, assuring him that the U.S. attorney there, William W. Mercer, was not violating federal law by spending most of his time in Washington as a senior Justice Department official. That same day, Mercer had a GOP Senate staffer insert into a bill a provision that would change the rules so that federal prosecutors could live outside their districts to serve in other jobs, according to documents and interviews Congress passed the provision several months later as part of the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill, retroactively benefiting Mercer and a handful of other senior Justice officials who pull double duty as U.S. attorneys and headquarters officials. (…) The new provision was retroactive to February 2005, several months before Mercer began working at Justice headquarters. Mercer currently serves as the acting associate attorney general and has been nominated for appointment to the job permanently. He spends only about three days a month in Montana as U.S. attorney, according to congressional testimony, and is among about a half-dozen U.S. attorneys who currently work in senior jobs in Washington. The practice has come under scrutiny in Congress because of claims by the Justice Department that it fired New Mexico prosecutor David C. Iglesias in part because he was absent from the job too much. Iglesias, who is a Naval Reserve officer, has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alleging that the firing was, among other things, a violation of federal laws prohibiting discrimination against military personnel. "It's a curious contrast that leaders in the Department of Justice would slip a change into law to allow one U.S. Attorney to spend only a few days a month in his district and keep his job, while at the same time claiming to fire another for spending a few days a month away from his district to serve his country," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement.

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