Madison, Wisconsin—Former U.S. Attorney Peg Lautenschlager expressed alarm over allegations that political partisans pressured the conduct of numerous U.S. attorneys’ prosecutions today.
Interviewed by phone in Wisconsin, Lautenschlager made her comments as congressional denunciation has reached fever pitch, including bipartisan calls for the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez whose chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, resigned his position on March 12.
Lautenschlager said that she experienced no such political pressure during her tenure as U.S. Atty. for the Western District of Wisconsin (1993-2001).
“Absolutely none,” said Lautenschlager who was appointed by President Clinton. “At no time did we hear from anyone in a political nature regarding our resolution of a case or the appropriateness of any of our actions,” despite the fact that some cases she supervised were politically sensitive to the Clinton administration.
The current controversy concerns the firing of eight U.S. attys. last December by the Bush administration and the alleged attempted politicalization of the conduct of U.S. attys.’ offices by partisan officials.
Allegations include that elected Republican and administration officials pressured U.S. attys. to make decisions in their offices based on partisan electoral considerations, as has been alleged by fired U.S. Attys. David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Seattle.
Administration officials have repeatedly pointed out that U.S. attys. are appointed by the president and serve at the pleasure of the president, by statute, giving the president the right to fire U.S. attys. at will, and have denied that political pressure has been brought to bear on U.S. attys’ offices.
“Needless to say, there are political appointees within the department (of Justice) who act in a supervisory capacity, and obviously they have an oversight obligation…,” said Lautenschlager. ”I think the bigger issue is taking that oversight function and using it for political purposes. And it’s that where I think that tradition has been broken significantly. The notion of whether or not a charge should be brought before an election versus after an election and the like is one in which I think that prosecutors who recognize their obligation under the law try to factor out.”
Lautenschlager, who also served as Wisconsin attorney general (2003-2007), added, “During my tenure of as an U.S. atty, I never personally nor did I know of any U.S. atty who had those sorts of alleged (political) demands placed on him or her.”
Lautenschlager said she attended the spring meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington D.C. in early March and left the conference believing that many former U.S. attys. in attendance were disturbed by the allegations of partisan conduct.
“I think it’s fair to say that the sentiment among all who were there, be they Democrats or Republicans, is one of great concern. It’s fair to say that this is an issue which transcends partisan politics in that there is a strong feeling among those who have served (as U.S. attorneys) that political considerations should not enter into prosecutorial decisions.”