The Washington Post reports today on the U.S. Attorney for Montana, Bill Mercer, who is apparently never in his Montana office:
His regular absence from the U.S. attorney’s office in Billings has caused severe friction between Mercer and U.S. District Chief Judge Donald W. Molloy, a Clinton appointee. Molloy wrote a letter to Gonzales in October 2005 demanding that Mercer be replaced.
Molloy wrote that Mercer’s absence had led to “a lack of leadership” in the Montana office and created “untoward difficulties for the court” and for career prosecutors. The judge also questioned whether Mercer complied with residency requirements.
Gonzales wrote back the next month that Mercer was handling both jobs admirably, and suggested that Mercer’s absence would be short-lived.
Relations between Mercer and Molloy have not improved since. Molloy berated Mercer during a court hearing last year, accusing him of bringing weak cases to court to pump up statistics and telling him: “You have no credibility — none.”
“Your lawyers are not getting their briefs in on time,” Molloy said. “You’re in Washington, D.C., and you ought to be here in Montana doing your work. Your office is a mess.”
That’s bad enough, but what does it have to do with Iglesias? TPM Muckraker’s Paul Kiel explains:
The meat of the piece has to do with canned U.S. attorney David Iglesias. One of the department’s cover stories for firing him, remember, was that he was an “absentee landlord.” As department official William Moschella told Congress last month: “Quite frankly, U.S. attorneys are hired to run the office, not their first assistants.”
How is that Iglesias can be canned for performing his duties as a Naval reserve officer, but Mercer can be gone so long that judges are writing about his performance? Because Iglesias’ firing, like all the others, was politically motivated. Looks like the Post has shot another hole in the Justice Department’s explanation of the scandal.
A complaint that Mr. Domenici broke Senate rules by interfering in a criminal matter has prompted an ethics committee inquiry. But it is unclear how that will play out because Mr. Domenici is not talking, and neither is the committee.
The scrutiny has marred the almost spotless reputation of Mr. Domenici, 74, the second-longest-serving Republican in the Senate â€” he was first elected in 1972 â€” as he prepares to seek a seventh term. The personal toll appeared to be weighing on him as he made his way around the Capitol in recent weeks.
“I think it has certainly been a distraction and a cause for stress,” said Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who replaced Mr. Domenici as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
LP adds the following:
This is just one of many distractions that Domenici will need to address in the runup to the 2008 election. That is, if any challenger from the Democratic party steps up to the plate.
Other issues on his plate are Domenici’s hawkish stance on Iraq, his age and questions about Domenici’s environmental legacy.
But for now, the attention is still on the rapidly expanding US Attorney scandal. Nationally, this may cost Attorney General Alberto Gonzales his job, and does nothing but put more bad news out in the press for the Republicans.