The beleaguered ranks of career prosecutors got a boost Wednesday — the nomination of one of their own as Deputy Attorney General. He is 48-year-old Craig Morford, a low-profile and well-respected prosecutor who is currently the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
In a statement, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales praised Morford for his "proven leadership skills ... exemplary character and integrity in this critical position at this time."
While Gonzales continues trying to put the uproar over the U.S. Attorney firings behind him, Morford will run the day-to-day operations of the sprawling Justice Department. But he also knows how to mop up after a Justice Department scandal.
In 2004, Morford was chosen by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate prosecutorial misconduct in the "Detroit sleeper cell" case, one of the first terrorism cases after the September 11th attacks. The lead prosecutor, Richard Convertino, was later indicted. Morford capped off two decades in the Cleveland office with the prosecution and conviction of Rep. James Traficant, the flamboyant former Congressman, on bribery and racketeering charges.
Despite Morford's reputation, he could face some heat on Capitol Hill. His name appears on a "talking points" memo written by Gonzales' former counsel, Monica Goodling. The memo lists prosecutors placed into vacant U.S. Attorney positions, which prompted Democrats to claim that it was done to dodge Senate confirmation. But there has never been any allegation that Morford himself was involved in the controversy.
Through his office in Nashville, Morford released a brief statement saying, "I accept the challenge out of my deep sense of duty to our country." He asks for "the patience and grace I will need to succeed in the important and challenging work ahead."
The current deputy, Paul McNulty, who quit over his role in the firings, originally said he would leave at the end of the summer. With his replacement selected, McNulty is expected to leave the department very shortly.