2 fired attorneys had cordial ties with Buchanan

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The relationship between at least some of the eight fired U.S. attorneys and officials at the Department of Justice continued to be cordial almost to the day those attorneys received a phone call dismissing them.

Two of the terminated prosecutors said they had received positive feedback from their superiors as well as from Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the former director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which helps put together teams that review U.S. attorneys.

Her name was mentioned among others last weekend by D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as having been consulted when Justice Department officials were drawing up the list of eight prosecutors across the country to be fired.

An initial list suggesting which U.S. attorneys should be fired was sent to White House counsel in March 2005, when Ms. Buchanan was still running the Executive Office.

The House Judiciary Committee has requested an interview with Ms. Buchanan on what role she played in the process, which has become the target of congressional hearings and accusations of political impropriety within the Department of Justice.

Both H. E. "Bud" Cummins and Daniel Bogden said their relationships with Ms. Buchanan were cordial.

Even though she served from June 2004 to June 2005 in the Executive Office, the men said they knew Ms. Buchanan in more of a social sense, running into her at U.S. attorney conferences and meetings.

Besides running into Ms. Buchanan at meetings, Mr. Bogden's most extensive knowledge of her came in a two-page letter in June 2005. Sent while Ms. Buchanan was still the director of the Executive Office, the letter praised the work being done in his district.

And then 18 months later, on Dec. 7, he received a phone call "out of the blue."

"I was told the administration only had a short, two-year window of opportunity to put someone [new] in there. They wanted to take advantage of it," he said. The message, delivered by Michael Battle, who replaced Ms. Buchanan as director of the Executive Office, was: " 'You serve at the pleasure of the president. Your time is up, and you need to resign.' "

When he asked if his job performance had anything to do with his termination, Mr. Bogden said he was told that it never even entered into the equation.

When Mr. Cummins got the phone call from Mr. Battle notifying him of his termination, "I asked him if I did something wrong, and he said I hadn't."

That's why, when Justice Department officials started releasing information to the media that the firings were performance related, Mr. Cummins and Mr. Bogden were shocked and disappointed.

"You're not only getting shoved out that door, then you're getting run over," said Mr. Bogden, who spent 16 1/2 years as a federal prosecutor. "They can have whatever reason -- just say that. Be truthful about it."

Ms. Buchanan would not comment for this story.

During her tenure as a U.S. attorney, she has been appointed to national positions three times and is currently serving as the acting director of the Office on Violence Against Women.

To get into those administrative roles, Mr. Cummins said, a person either had to be from a prominent district or put a lot of effort into being asked.

"There was definitely an inner circle of U.S. attorneys," Mr. Cummins said. "I don't think I ever was in it. Some people are more active in seeking out those opportunities."

He was not surprised that Mr. Sampson named Ms. Buchanan as one of those involved when speaking to congressional investigators last weekend.

"Most of this story has just been a succession of finger-pointing," said Mr. Cummins, who is working as a biofuels consultant. "It's not a shock at this point that they're trying to drag somebody else into it."

He doesn't know what involvement Ms. Buchanan had in the firing process.

"I'll be shocked if Mary Beth comes in there with any bombshells," he said.

Despite what he's gone through, Mr. Cummins remains sympathetic to those in the Republican party.

"None of the people involved are evil," he said. "Just some serious mistakes have been made.

"There's not much to argue here because my team keeps handing [Democrats] legitimate issues to beat the White House and Republicans over the head," Mr. Cummins continued. "It's just been surreal how many mistakes have been made in a row here."

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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