Fed-up Feds

Will the "temp" United States Attorney exile dissidents to the border?

The assistant United States attorney says, "The White House is distracted with all this other shit, and there's no senator calling up and saying, 'I want my guy on board,' so nobody's in any rush to do anything with it. So the poor bastard is just sitting down there [in Brownsville] and he's got no political clout. It's a very tough time."

A DeAtley critic sees the delay as political interference from the top. "Donna Bucella is exercising more power than she should. They're holding up this thing until they can find a place for DeAtley. He's not welcome back in San Antonio because he did the same thing over there and created a lot of bad feelings."

If Mosbacker is not moved into Houston soon, several observers hope local federal judges, who have the power to name acting United States attorneys, get into the act. Judge Hughes expects the subject of DeAtley and the conduct of his office to come up at a meeting of the federal judiciary in Houston next month.

"I assume that when we have a formal court meeting we will discuss the incumbent United States attorney and the status of the presidential appointment," says Hughes. He says he is uncertain about the attitudes of fellow judges toward DeAtley or alternatives. "It is a serious responsibility, so when we gather, as long as there is an interim United States attorney, we will consider how the office is operating."

A justice department prosecutor points out an oddity in the continuing delay for Mosbacker.

"If they can appoint him acting United States attorney once the White House clears him, they could do that today, and they could have done that a year ago. That indicates there is a delay that in my view is not genuine."

This source also notes that no previous interim United States attorney elevated from within the justice department required the intense internal scrutiny given to Mosbacker.

Judges might take a few pointers from their counterparts in San Antonio, who tired of the endless interim tenure of DeAtley. They took matters into their own hands by naming Bill Blagg as interim until his nomination could be processed.

"They had gotten completely fed up with the situation," says a DOJ attorney. "The judges were reflecting what they perceived to be terrible problems in the office and a guy they didn't care for who was doing inconsequential cases and whose policies and values they didn't share. It didn't take San Antonio long to come to that conclusion, and it hasn't taken the people in Houston very long, either."

DeAtley might also keep in mind the fate of predecessor Oncken. His similar fondness for pushing small cases eventually motivated local judges to pressure the White House and congressional patrons not to reappoint him. When his term expired, Oncken was gone, along with all those nickel-and-dime prosecutions.

If reports circulating within DeAtley's staff as we go to press are accurate, the latest version of the nickel and dime may also be on its way out. According to one source, Attorney General Janet Reno will make the long-awaited interim appointment of Mosbacker at mid-month, and the next major transfer out of Houston is likely to be the justice department temp himself.

Maybe he'd fit right in on the streets of Laredo.

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