In a 329-78 vote March 26, the House of Representatives followed the Senate and stripped President George W. Bush of the authority to appoint U.S. attorneys on an interim basis, ending the ability of the Bush administration to do an end run around the Senate in putting controversial U.S. attorneys in office.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), places a 120-day limit to the term of a United States attorney appointed on an interim basis. Democrats allege that the previous authority to appoint interim U.S. attorneys on an unlimited basis, inserted stealthily into the 2006 reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, was used as a “loophole” to insert Bush administration political loyalists into office.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the “awesome powers” of the U.S. attorneys required Senate confirmation of their appointments.

“The bill before us today … will restore the historical checks and balances to the process by which interim U.S. attorneys are appointed,” he said.

The Senate measure passed on a 94-2. The measure will proceed to the White House for approval after being considered in a House-Senate conference.

All of this comes in the wake of targeted firing of eight federal prosecutors because they didn’t fully embrace the far-right legal and political agenda.

A senior aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has decided she won’t testify before lawmakers about her role in the ousters, the latest flare-up in the controversy surrounding the Justice Department.

Gonzales has said he participated in no discussions and saw no memos about plans to carry out the firings on Dec. 7 that Democrats contend were politically motivated.

His schedule, however, shows he attended at least one hour long meeting on Nov. 27 where he approved a detailed plan to execute the prosecutors’ firings.

“How much scrutiny do we have to put behind everything the attorney general says?” the House Judiciary Committee chairman said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I know he’s busy, and he could have done things that he didn’t remember, but we’re going to give him as much rope as he needs,” said Conyers.

Gonzales’ arrival in Cincinnati was greeted by an editorial in The Cincinnati Enquirer urging him to resign. “Misstatements, mismanagement and a misunderstanding of the role of the attorney general have made Alberto Gonzales’ continued service a liability for the United States,” the newspaper said. “He should resign, now.”

A day earlier, Gonzales said he was “really pained” by Republicans and Democrats who say he has lost his credibility in dealing with the firings. A growing number of critics say the dismissals were politically motivated.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said March 27 that Gonzales has been “badly weakened” by conflicting Justice Department stories on the firings including his own.

“The explanation has been absolutely abysmal,” Hoekstra said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

Sources: Raw Story and The Associated Press.

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