Prosecutor Griffin now rejects post
Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007
Tim Griffin, whose December appointment as U. S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas sparked a national outcry about surreptitious changes made to a law affecting federal prosecutors, says he no longer wants the job permanently.
“I have made the decision not to let my name go forward to the Senate,” Griffin said Thursday evening.
He was referring to the U. S. Department of Justice’s stated intention, amid heavy criticism, to subject Griffin and others recently appointed to interim federal-prosecutor posts to the standard process of being nominated by the president, scrutinized by the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee and then voted on by the Senate.
Griffin, 38, a former military prosecutor, was appointed Dec. 20 by U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales under a little-noticed provision tacked onto the 2006 reauthorization of the USAPATRIOT Act that allows the attorney general to fill prosecutorial vacancies on an interim basis without Senate approval.
Griffin’s predecessor, Bud Cummins, later acknowledged that he was asked to step aside from the job he got five years earlier after going through the Senate confirmation process, not because of performance issues but to make way for Griffin, who worked briefly in the White House under presidential adviser Karl Rove and was a political director for the Republican National Committee.
The new language concerning appointments, which even the Republican sponsor of the 2006 legislation now says he didn’t notice at the time, replaced a provision that limited the interim appointments to 120 days.
It had the effect of allowing appointees to serve indefinitely for the rest of the current administration, which in this case ends in early 2009, without the usual scrutiny.
Griffin on Thursday blamed “the partisanship that has been exhibited by Sen. [Mark ] Pryor [D-Ark. ] and other senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the recent hearing” for his decision to bow out.
He referred to a hearing last week on Capitol Hill on legislation proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and supported by Pryor, as well as Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and others, to reinstate the original language governing such appointments.
The legislation was proposed after at least seven U. S. attorneys across the country were ousted to make room for Republican political allies. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty acknowledged in the hearing that in Arkansas, Cummins was forced out simply to make room for Griffin.
Griffin said Thursday that if he were to go through the confirmation process, “I don’t think there is any way I could get fair treatment by Sen. Pryor or others on the judiciary committee.”
He said he will continue to serve in the top law enforcement position in the state’s eastern district as long as the White House keeps him there under the interim title or “gets someone else that I can help transition into this job.
“ But to submit my name to the Senate would be like volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad in the middle of a three-ring circus.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Thursday that Cummins was ousted after Harriet E. Miers, the former White House Counsel, intervened on Griffin’s behalf.
Miers’ role was disclosed Wednesday by Justice Department officials during a private briefing for senators on the Judiciary Committee, the Times reported. The officials denied that the White House played a part in any of the other dismissals, the newspaper said.
Officials at the White House and Justice Department declined to comment on Miers’ role in the matter, and Miers, whose resignation took effect Jan. 31, could not be reached for comment Thursday, according to the Times.
Pryor’s spokesman, Michael Teague, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday, after Griff in said he was withdrawing his name from consideration, that Gonzales himself had called Pryor earlier Thursday “and told the senator he was not going to submit Tim Griffin’s name.”
Teague said Gonzales “didn’t give a reason,” but said he would confer with Rep. John Boozman, the state’s only Republican in the delegation, to find someone else to nominate.
During that conversation, “the senator told the attorney general, ‘It’s my preference that you send him through the confirmation hearing. ’” Teague said.
He said Pryor made that statement despite his complaints about the way Griffin got the job “because that’s the process. That’s the way the founding fathers set it up.”
Griffin said that neither Gonzales nor anyone else told him or suggested to him that he bow out.
“I made up my mind two weeks ago not to allow my name to go forward,” he said. “I have informed people both at the Department of Justice and the White House that I do not desire to have my name submitted..... I don’t want to be part of that partisan circus.”
Teague called Griffin’s remarks about partisanship “baseless.” He said Pryor is well-known and has even been criticized by fellow Democrats for being “fair and open” about President Bush’s judicial nominees, of whom he has supported more than 100 and opposing fewer than a dozen.
Teague pointed out that Pryor even testified that “the way the White House has handled this has been a disservice to Tim Griffin.”
Teague said Pryor has encouraged Griffin to go through the confirmation process, to clear up any questions about his background and his experience. The spokesman emphasized that Pryor’s concerns were “not about a nomination” but “about the administration circumventing the process.”
Griffin later responded, “It’s unfortunate that Sen. Pryor is blaming the administration for using a law that he voted for to appoint me, apparently with the excuse that he didn’t know what he was voting for when he voted. I think it’s been a disservice to me the way my home-state senator has treated a fellow Arkansan, and an Arkansan who grew up in south Arkansas, 30 miles from his dad’s hometown of Camden.”
Griffin also said, “I spoke to Sen. Pryor when I was serving in Iraq [in 2006 ], and later spoke to him in his office in Washington, and on both occasions the senator directly questioned my credentials and indicated it was ‘ mighty presumptuous’ of the White House and me that I could do the U. S. attorney job.”
Teague insisted that Pryor’s diligence in pursuing the matter is neither partisan nor personal.