Bush pick for key Justice Department job withdraws
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's nominee for the third-ranking U.S. Justice Department post withdrew on Friday, becoming the department's latest casualty amid congressional scrutiny of the firings of federal prosecutors.
The move by William Mercer, selected by Bush for the post of associate attorney general, came just days before a scheduled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday on his nomination. Mercer had been serving in the job on an acting basis since last September while also holding the job of U.S. attorney in Montana, a post he will retain.
Mercer becomes the sixth Justice Department official to step aside since March as the Democratic-led Congress investigates the department's firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
"After much consideration, I have concluded that it is highly unlikely that both the Judiciary Committee and the Senate will take prompt action on my nomination in the near term, if ever," Mercer said in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales explaining why he asked Bush to withdraw his nomination.Gonzales, who has fended off demands from some lawmakers for his resignation, ousted the prosecutors last year as part of a plan that originated at the White House.
"This view is informed in part by statements suggesting that some senior Justice nominees will not be voted upon until the Senate receives e-mails and witnesses it has demanded from the White House," Mercer added.
Critics have questioned whether partisan politics played an improper role in the dismissal plans. Bush and Gonzales say the firing of nine of the 93 U.S. attorneys, all Bush appointees, was justified, although mishandled.