Overwhelming vote on U.S. attorneys

March 20, 2007 at 5:29 PM

WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate voted 94-2 Tuesday to strip U.S. President George Bush of the power to bypass the confirmation process for U.S. attorneys.

Only two Republicans, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Christopher Bond of Missouri, opposed the measure, The New York Times reported. The overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate suggests that the bill is likely to pass the U.S. House of Representatives by a veto-proof margin.

The Justice Department has said it will not oppose the bill, which removes a provision in the USA Patriot Act allowing the president to name U.S. attorneys without confirmation. It would restore the old system, which allowed the attorney general to fill vacancies with interim appointees for up to 120 days.

The Patriot Act bypass received little notice until the flap about the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys. The Justice Department claims that thousands of e-mail messages turned over to Congress late Monday show that the eight were fired for performance reasons, not politics, CNN reported.

"The department did not remove the U.S. attorneys for improper reasons, such as to prevent or retaliate for a particular prosecution in a public corruption matter," Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said.

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said the pile of paper delivered Monday night won't stop his committee from investigating the matter.

"This investigation has uncovered serious charges of misleading Congress, obstructing justice and abuse of power," he told CNN. "We are prepared to press ahead to get to the bottom of this growing scandal, using subpoenas if necessary."

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