In recent congressional testimony, Justice officials have insisted that they did not intend to use this provision to simply evade the confirmation process. Indeed, home-state senators have long played a key role in the selection of US attorneys. Federal prosecutors are powerful local officials, after all.
But e-mails released March 19 indicate that, back in their offices, some Justice Department officials felt otherwise.
An e-mail sent Sept. 13, 2006 from Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Gonzales's former chief of staff, said that by avoiding the confirmation process "we can give far less deference to home-state senators."
According to Mr. Sampson, who resigned recently over his role in the firings furor, this meant chosen replacements could be up and working more quickly, "at less political cost to the White House."
The recipient of the memo? Former White House counsel Harriet Miers.
The Senate voted 94-2 Tuesday to repeal this provision.
Members have also expressed irritation about what they consider to be misleading or incomplete testimony from executive-branch officials about the circumstances surrounding the recent prosecutor dismissals.
For instance, after drawing the short straw, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Moschella appeared before a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 6. In response to a question about possible White House involvement about the firings, he implied that White House officials were consulted only after the list of those to be dismissed had been drawn up.
Internal documents released by the Justice Department have since shown that the White House had at least some involvement in the listmaking process.