Ashcroft Aide Sought To ID Weak U.S. Attorneys In 2004

The quest by the Justice Department to replace weak U.S. attorneys long preceded Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, U.S. News has learned.

In fact, early in 2004, David Ayres, chief of staff to Gonzales's predecessor, John Ashcroft, began the process of evaluating U.S. attorneys, with the hopes of determining who were the "poorest" ones, "should we have an opportunity to make changes," according to a former Justice Department official. At the time, Ashcroft believed he would be asked to stay through Bush's second term.

Among other steps that he took, Ayres approached then Deputy Attorney General James Comey for his thoughts. Comey gave Ayres the same list of those whom he viewed as weak U.S. attorneys that he would give Gonzales's Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson a year later. In principle, the former Justice official says, Comey was not opposed to removing incompetent people.

By Chitra Ragavan