Most U.S. attorneys to stick around — for now

MOST U.S. ATTORNEYS TO STICK AROUND — FOR NOW…. Initially, the Chicago Tribune‘s Mark Silva reported that the White House had decided to keep 51 Bush-appointed U.S. Attorneys on at their posts. Given the expectation that new presidents replace the full slate at the start of their terms, this seemed like a very odd decision. Would President Obama and A.G. Eric Holder really want more than half of the nation’s U.S. Attorneys to come from the previous administration?

As it turns out, no. The initial report neglected to mention that the arrangement is temporary.

With all the controversy surrounding the Bush administration’s firings of several U.S. attorneys, the question for the Obama administration became: What now?

And with all the muck that the hard-charging Chicago-based U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has stirred not only in Chicago, but also in Washington, the question became: How now?

The Obama White House has effectively, and somewhat quietly, answered that question — for now: With Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explaining that the Justice Department has allowed all the chief federal prosecutors who have not already left in the changing of the presidential guard to remain at their posts, at least temporarily.

Of the 93 U.S. attorneys who served under the previous administration, Gibbs said aboard Air Force One en route to Phoenix with President Barack Obama, 51 remain.

The White House also says that, at the start of the administration, all 93 were allowed to serve temporarily. Thirty resigned before Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and 12 more have left since then. And the 51 still serving are technically there on a temporary basis — Obama hasn’t decided that all will remain.

Patrick Fitzgerald appears to be the exception to all of this — he’s been invited to stay on in his current role indefinitely.

But as for those other 50 federal prosecutors, their terms are very limited. This announcement is little more than an acknowledgement that administration officials have not yet selected a full slate of U.S. Attorneys . Until they do, Bush’s U.S.As can keep the seat warm.

This is something of a relief. As has been well reported, the Bush gang worked aggressively to identify which U.S. attorneys were “loyal Bushies.” Those who were deemed unworthy were purged from the Justice Department for having professional ethics and a commitment to applying the rule of law in a non-partisan fashion. Indeed, it seems that the way to become and stay a U.S. attorney over the last eight years was to be a committed, partisan Republican.

The notion of several dozen Monica Goodling-approved prosecutors enjoying another term seemed frightening. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

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