Keating Calls Firings Of Federal Prosecutors Inappropriate

Friday, March 16th 2007, 7:54 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. Justice Department official, said Friday the firing of eight federal prosecutors for ``largely political reasons'' was inappropriate but that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should not have to step down.

Gonzales has been under intense criticism since the mass firings of U.S. attorneys was disclosed and charges of cronyism were leveled against the Justice Department. Democrats in Congress have accused the Bush administration of firing the prosecutors to make room for Republican allies.

If that is the case, Keating said, then the prosecutors' dismissals reveal ``a troubling lack of professionalism'' and a breach in the wall that has traditionally separated federal prosecutors from political considerations.

``That would be inappropriate,'' said Keating, a two-term Republican governor who served as U.S. attorney in Tulsa between 1981 and 1986 and later as an associate attorney general in the administration of President Ronald Reagan with authority over all 93 of the nation's U.S. attorneys.

``The heart and soul of the department are U.S. attorneys,'' Keating said. ``They represent the independent and blindfolded voice of the law.

``You're officers of the court, you're not partisans of the administration. They represent the U.S. government, not the Republican Party.''

Some Republican members of Congress have urged President Bush to fire Gonzales. Keating said the attorney general should not be forced from office for authorizing the firings, which he said is his prerogative.

Some of the fired prosecutors testified last week that lawmakers leaned on them to speed up prosecutions that would hurt Democrats. Others said they felt intimidated by the agency to stay quiet. All of them were miffed by the Justice Department's contention that the dismissals were performance-related.

Keating, president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers, the trade association for the life insurance and retirement security industry, said he was surprised at revelations that Bush administration officials considered replacing all of the nation's U.S. attorneys following the president's re-election.

``It would be a serious morale problem,'' the former governor said.

It's customary for new presidents to bring in their own team of prosecutors when they take office. But Democrats say the Bush administration singled out some of its own nominees because they chafed at the president's priorities and efforts by Republican members of Congress and others to influence political corruption investigations.

Keating said that under his guidance, U.S. attorneys were occasionally replaced due to inadequate performance such as poor preparation or tardy filing of legal briefs.

``Politics was never a factor,'' he said. ``We had a wall between ourselves and the White House at the Department of Justice.''

Keating said he does not recall an instance in which elected federal officers telephoned federal prosecutors to inquire on the status of a pending prosecution.

Last week, one of the fired federal prosecutors told a Senate committee that Republican Sen. Pete Domenici hung up on him in disgust last fall when told that indictments in a corruption case against Democrats would not be issued before the fall elections.

Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both New Mexico Republicans, have acknowledged contacting their state's U.S. attorney about a pending case but denied placing political pressure on him.

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