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The battle over fired US attorneys

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Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill sponsored by Senator Feinstein that limits the term for an interim appointment to 120 days – returning the law to what it was prior to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

"That's to create an incentive to go to the Senate for confirmation," says Feinstein. If a nominee is not confirmed by the Senate in 120 days, the appointment would be made by the district court.

So far, Senate Republicans have blocked moves to take the bill to the floor for debate. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle predict that this week's hearings will give the bill more traction.

What emerged from the hearings are two starkly different versions of events.

No one disputes that the president has the right to remove political appointees.

"Each of us was fully aware that we served at the pleasure of the president and that we could be removed for any, or no, reason," said Carol Lam of San Diego, in a joint statement for herself and other fired US attorneys who appeared before Senate and House Judiciary panels. "In most of our cases, we were given little or no information about the reason for the request for our resignations. This hearing is not a forum to engage in speculation, and we decline to speculate about the reasons."

But in a full day of questioning, lawmakers pressed witnesses on whether they felt pressured to lay off corruption cases against Republicans – or step up prosecutions of Democrats.

Ms. Lam, who served as US attorney from 2002 until this year, declined to speculate on whether she had been fired because of her prosecution of former GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for corruption.

In response to the same questions, US Attorney David Iglesias told lawmakers he had been contacted by Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici, both New Mexico Republicans, who wanted to know whether he planned to indict a local Democrat for corruption before last November's elections. "I suspect they believed that I was not a help to them during the campaign, and I just started to kind of put the dots together," he told the Senate panel.

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