U.S. attorney targeted after rebuff

Aug. 1, 2007 at 11:05 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- A U.S. attorney who was allegedly targeted for termination by the Justice Department had rejected the department's urging that he slow prosecution of a case.

John Brownlee, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, Va., told the Senate Judiciary Committee his name appeared on a list of U.S. attorneys targeted for firing compiled by Michael Elston, who at the time served as chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and was involved in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Brownlee said Elston had phoned him the night before the manufacturer of addictive painkiller OxyContin submitted a guilty plea and asked him -- Brownlee said at the behest of an executive at the drug maker -- to slow the procession of the case. He told the Post his name appeared on the list eight days after he refused.

Justice Department officials defended Elston's phone call, saying senior officials often give their opinions in major criminal cases. Department spokesman Dean Boyd told the Post the department "encourages healthy internal debate and discussion on complex cases like this one."

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