House okays legislation on prosecutors

Published May 23, 2007

WASHINGTON - Congress cleared legislation Tuesday that would curb President Bush's power to appoint prosecutors indefinitely, resolving one controversy linked to the firing of federal prosecutors.

The 306-114 vote gave the House's blessing to the Senate-passed bill, readying it for Bush's expected signature. It will close a loophole that Democrats say could have permitted the White House to reward GOP loyalists with plum jobs as U.S. attorneys.

The measure would restore the process for temporarily replacing U.S. attorneys to what it was before Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act last year. Under the bill, the attorney general could appoint a temporary replacement who could serve for up to 120 days. If in that time the Senate did not confirm a nominee permanently, the chief judge of the federal district would appoint a temporary replacement until the Senate acted.

Congress renewed the Patriot Act last year with a new provision that allowed the president to appoint U.S. attorneys for an indefinite amount of time, thus avoiding Senate confirmation. Democrats say the White House tried to use that provision to fire troublesome prosecutors and replace them with loyalists.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said his intent is to submit all nominations to the Senate for confirmation. But e-mails released by the Justice Department indicate that some of his aides were aware that the provision could be useful in a fight with majority Democrats.

The House vote came during a period of eroding support and new hurdles for Gonzales over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Senate Democrats are proposing a no-confidence vote on Gonzales, perhaps at week's end. And Gonzales' former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, is expected to tell her story today under a grant of immunity.