Tolman's role in 2006 U.S. Attorneys scandal | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tolman's role in 2006 U.S. Attorneys scandal

Posted By on October 14, 2009, 10:08 AM

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You're going to be reading and hearing fawning coverage of resigning U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman's tenure from all the other media outlets. I'll give you something a little different: Tolman's role in a national scandal.

In February 2008, Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman finally talked about his role in the firing of 9 U.S. Attorneys, a scandal that began in 2006, and lead to the downfall of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Gonazales' chief of staff, Utahn, BYU grad and returned LDS missionary Kyle Sampson. ---

After all the overlords responsible for the scandal resigned, Who did Tolman first talk to about his role in the scandal? Some young and cocky justice reporter at the (Ogden) Standard-Examiner. Oh yeah, that was me.

Here's what he told me: 

Tolman worked for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005 when the U.S. Patriot Act came up for reauthorization. As counsel to the committee, Tolman inserted new language into that bill that changed the way interim U.S. Attorneys were selected. No longer would district judges do the selecting with Senate confirmation, but the U.S. Attorney General's office would do it all. Interim U.S. Attorneys could also hold the position indefinitely.



This, of course, facilitated the controversial firing of 9 U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, including nearby neighbor David Iglesias of New Mexico, because hiring their replacement no longer included so much red tape and oversight.



Conspiracy theorists on the Web, some of whom called for Tolman to be prosecuted, accused Tolman of working for shadowy masters when he inserted the language. But he was never called to testify before Congress about his role.

He never told me precisely how that provision was concocted or what the motivation was. He was fairly convincing, however, in explaining the humdrum way the provision came to be law. It was in the bill for 85 days before it was voted on and no one on the committee or otherwise raised any concerns. Tolman's position while talking to me was essentially that the law was not outrageous and appropriately received little attention before it was passed. Only after "inexperienced," that's his word, officials like Gonzales misused it did it become apparent that it may be problematic.

Eh, maybe. Tolman says having judges select U.S. Attorneys is poor policy because those attorneys may then appear before the judge that selected them. I don't see what huge problem that creates unless the judge can also fire you (which s/he can't). By the way, during the uproar of the scandal, the law Tolman helped create was removed by Congress; district judges now do the selecting of interim U.S. Attorneys once again and their tenure is really temporary.

One final note: Tolman was appointed to become a U.S. Attorney himself in 2006, the year after his role in changing the ways interim U.S. Attorneys are appointed. Make of that what you will. 

Sorry I can't provide a link to the original article. Standard-Examiner no longer has it on their Web site, so send complaints that direction, then whip out your library card. Most local library systems provide free access to complete archives of the Standard-Examiner, Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News and others. 

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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