Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified Thursday, April 19, that he was unaware of the Justice Department's plan to fire eight U.S. attorneys last year, and he expressed his concern about low morale developing at the department as the controversy over the firings drags on.
The political firestorm over who decided to fire the attorneys has been growing since it was disclosed that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was in close communication with the White House Counsel's office about which U.S. attorneys should be fired.
Sampson resigned in March.
With the continuing controversy now spanning more than three months, and with calls for Gonzales to resign coming from both political parties, Comey described the atmosphere at Justice Department headquarters. "Certainly, it has caused a morale hit here at Main Justice, the mothership," he said. "But I hope it doesn't affect that which is essential about this institution, and that is the ability to do good every day and to protect people and to help people."
Comey had nothing but praise for five of the U.S. attorneys who were fired at the end of last year, and said he had no knowledge of significant problems with most of those who were fired, except for management problems charged to Kevin Ryan, the former U.S. attorney in San Francisco.
Comey lauded the former U.S. attorney from Seattle for his efforts to promote information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
"John McKay was one of my favorites," Comey said.
About David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, Comey said, "I thought he was very effective. I, obviously -- as with the others, I knew him as a colleague first and then as his boss, and had a very positive view of him."
The former No. 2 man at the Justice Department said of Daniel Bogden, former U.S. attorney in Nevada, "He is as straight as a Nevada highway, and a fired-up guy. ... He was loved in that community. ... He had made tremendous strides on violent crime. I thought he was very good."
"I thought he was a very strong U.S. attorney; one of the best," Comey said about Paul Charlton the former U.S. attorney in Arizona.
Comey said that in 2004, he did mention to the former San Diego U.S. attorney Carol Lam that she needed to focus more on gun prosecutions, one of the priorities laid out by the Department of Justice, but said that she was "a fine U.S. attorney."
Citing the issues concerning Kevin Ryan, Comey said, "A lot of people have been hurt in this process, and I don't mean to hurt Mr. Ryan. ... He's a fine guy. He just had management challenges in that office that were fairly serious. But I hope he's landed on his feet and is doing well."
Comey said he was not very familiar with Bud Cummins, the former U.S attorney in Arkansas, who was the first to be asked to leave in the summer of 2006.
"He and his district had not crossed my radar screen, which, from the deputy's perspective, is actually a very good thing. Bad things tend to reach the deputy, and so, if you didn't reach me, you must be doing OK," Comey said.
Cummins was replaced by Tim Griffin, a former aide to top White House political adviser Karl Rove.
The committee did not ask about ousted Michigan U.S. attorney Margaret Chiara, and Comey did not mention her during his testimony.