Several members of Congress sent letters
complaining about the job performance of U.S.
Attorney Carol Lam, who announced her resignation
last month. Her final day is Feb. 15, after 4˝ years
as the top federal prosecutor in the San Diego
A top Justice Department official said yesterday that
San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was being targeted for
dismissal because of “performance-related” issues after
his office received letters from several members of
Congress complaining about her handling of immigration
Questioned by Senate Judiciary Committee members,
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty repeatedly declined
to spell out what Lam's performance shortcomings were,
other than to note the complaints.
“What about Carol Lam? Why was she terminated?”
committee member Rep. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asked McNulty.
“I respectfully decline to go into specific reasons,”
“I think the committee needs to know why she was
terminated,” Specter responded.
But all McNulty would say is that “the phone calls made
in December were performance-related.” He was referring to
calls made to Lam and five other prosecutors demanding
their resignations. A seventh U.S. attorney, based in
Arkansas, was dismissed earlier last year to make way for
a former aide to White House adviser Karl Rove, McNulty
resignations and secrecy surrounding them have triggered
concerns among Democrats that the Bush administration is
trying to circumvent the Senate's right to approve or
disapprove U.S. attorney appointments.
Democrats, including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
have objected to a provision slipped into the USA Patriot
Act last year allowing U.S. attorney replacements to be
appointed and serve indefinitely without Senate approval.
Democrats are preparing legislation to overturn the new
“I have observed, with increasing alarm, how
politicized the Department of Justice has become,” Sen.
Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the start of the hearing.
“I have watched, with growing worry, as the department has
increasingly based hiring on political affiliation.”
McNulty vigorously denied the allegation: “When I hear
you talk about the politicizing of the Department of
Justice, it's like a knife in my heart.”
Separately, he added: “The attorney general's
appointment authority has not and will not be used to
circumvent the confirmation process.”
Schumer noted that Lam “was in the midst of a sweeping
public investigation,” referring to the probe of former
Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe, and
others. Cunningham is in prison after pleading guilty to
conspiracy and tax evasion charges, but investigations are
pending for several co-conspirators.
“Was her firing political retaliation? There's no way
to know that,” Schumer said. But he said he assumed that
“politics is involved. The appearance is plain awful.”
McNulty denied the assertion.
When questioned about the continued Cunningham-related
investigations, McNulty said, “We never have and never
will seek to remove a United States attorney to interfere
with an ongoing investigation or prosecution or in
retaliation for a prosecution.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who supports Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales' right to remove the prosecutors,
referred to a series of critical letters about Lam from
members of Congress who questioned her lack of
aggressiveness in immigration-related cases.
Lam had been “subject to a number of complaints,”
Last June, Feinstein wrote to Gonzales regarding her
concerns about immigration-related prosecutions in
Southern California. On July 30, 2004, a group of 14
California representatives wrote to the Attorney General
also to express their “concern” about immigration-related
In October 2005, Rep. Darrell Isla, R-Vista, wrote to
Lam complaining about “non-prosecution of criminal illegal
aliens,” and a year later criticized her office about its
failure to carry out immigrant-related smuggling cases.
The Attorney General's office was familiar with all the
letters, McNulty said. “We received letters from members
of Congress,” McNulty acknowledged. “I don't want to go
into the substance of them.
“We take them seriously,” he said. “We give them
Lam, 47, who has been the top prosecutor in San Diego
for more than four years, announced she is resigning Feb.
15. She has declined to comment on reasons for her
resignation, but sources said they were linked to Justice
Department officials who were concerned about her handling
of immigration-related prosecutions.
Lam's office said she had no comment about yesterday's