WASHINGTON -- A former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove who replaced one of the recently ousted U.S. attorneys has decided not to seek the job permanently after concluding that the Senate would block his confirmation.
J. Timothy Griffin, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said yesterday that he wasn't asked to step aside by the administration, despite the issues sparked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' unexpected firings of seven Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys.
Griffin, 38, said he would be willing to remain interim U.S. attorney until a replacement is named. Under a change in the law last year, that means he could stay in office until the end of President Bush's term.
"I will be here as long as the White House and Department of Justice want me here," he said. "Under the law, I could be here, hypothetically, until end of 2008 or early 2009."
Justice Department officials described Griffin as a talented and experienced lawyer and accused Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, of trying to block Griffin from becoming a permanent U.S. attorney. Justice Department officials said yesterday that the administration would work with the Arkansas delegation to find a replacement. Gonzales has told senators that he'll submit all U.S. attorney candidates for Senate confirmation.
"Given Tim's strong qualifications, the attorney general is disappointed that Senator Pryor would not support Tim's confirmation," Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said.
Administration officials have been forced to defend the firings in recent weeks after critics raised concerns that well-respected U.S. attorneys were being removed to make way for handpicked candidates who would be less likely to buck the White House.
Griffin took office after the Justice Department asked longtime U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins to step aside. Justice Department officials later acknowledged that Cummins was removed to make way for Griffin and not for any "performance-related" reasons. The department mentioned unspecified performance issues as justification for firing the other six prosecutors.
Griffin, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, was criticized as having more impressive political credentials than courtroom experience. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers had asked the Justice Department to appoint him. Griffin, a former military attorney, was a prosecutor in Little Rock for about a year and an independent counsel for three years.
Gonzales called Pryor on Thursday night to tell him that the Justice Department would not ask the Senate to confirm Griffin.
Gonzales promised that the administration would seek confirmation for another candidate, but he didn't say when an announcement would be made, said Michael Teague, Pryor's spokesman.
Teague said Pryor hadn't made up his mind about Griffin but wanted him to come before the Senate for confirmation. Pryor was concerned that a change in the Patriot Act last March meant Griffin could stay in office indefinitely without confirmation.
"It's not about Tim Griffin; it's about restoring legitimacy to the process," Teague said.