World and Nation

Former Deputy General Claims U.S. Attorneys Show Competency

A former deputy attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that he regarded most of the fired U.S. attorneys as highly competent prosecutors who should not have been dismissed.

James B. Comey, who was deputy attorney general from 2003 until August 2005, testified that his experience with the dismissed prosecutors was “very positive,” and said he knew of no problems with their performance that justified their removal.

The testimony by Comey, who was once the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, contrasted starkly with assertions of current Justice Department officials who have said the eight dismissed prosecutors were removed mainly because of failings in their performance.

Comey served under Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his immediate predecessor, John Ashcroft. His departure was regarded as a turning point for the leadership of the Justice Department when more ideological aides, most lacking prosecutorial experience, gained power.

Comey praised several of the dismissed U.S. attorneys with whom he said he had worked closely. He called John McKay of Seattle “charming,” “passionate” and “one of my favorites.” He said Daniel G. Bogden of Nevada was “as straight as a Nevada highway and a fired-up guy.”

He said Paul Charlton of Arizona was “one of the best,” and described David Iglesias of New Mexico and Carol Lam of San Diego as highly effective prosecutors.

Comey said he was less familiar with two other prosecutors who were dismissed, H.E. Cummins of Arkansas and Margaret Chiara of Michigan, but never had a reason to doubt their performance.

Kevin Ryan of San Francisco was the only one of the eight prosecutors whom Comey said should have been replaced.

Comey testified a day after Justice Department officials said the agency had opened an internal inquiry into whether Monica M. Goodling, a former senior aide to Gonzales, had sought to screen applicants for jobs as career prosecutors to determine their political loyalty to the Bush administration.

In his testimony, Comey said that the accusation, if true, would be a severe blow to the department.

“That is the most, in my view, the most serious thing I have heard come up in this entire controversy,” Comey said.