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By PATRICK CONDON
Three lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Minneapolis resigned their management posts, moves that gained national attention against the backdrop of claims top federal prosecutors elsewhere were fired for political reasons.
U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose confirmed Friday that John Marti, a first assistant U.S. attorney, Erika Mozangue, head of the office’s civil division, and James Lackner, who heads the office’s criminal division, have decided to “go back to the line to be full-time prosecutors.”
She did not say why the three stepped down and indicated that she would have no further public comment. “We have work to do,” her statement said.
John Kelly, deputy director of the Justice Department’s executive office of U.S. Attorneys, visited Minneapolis on Thursday to try to resolve the situation, according to two aides in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The prosecutors stepped down after Kelly’s visit.
The Justice aides said it is not uncommon for the office, which oversees all 94 U.S. attorneys’ districts nationwide, to make such visits to handle personnel issues.
Paulose, 34, replaced former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger after he resigned in early 2006. Before her appointment, she had served as senior counsel to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and special assistant to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The three resignations come as Congress investigates the U.S. Justice Department’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year and whether the moves were politically motivated. Its findings so far have torpedoed morale at Justice Department headquarters in Washington and in U.S. attorneys’ offices nationwide.
Democrats and some Republicans have called on Gonzales to resign for the botched way the firings were handled and described to Congress. On Friday, a top aide to Gonzales, Monica M. Goodling, abrubtly quit, and said she would not testify about her role in the firings of federal prosecutors.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat and harsh critic of Gonzales, said the moves in Minnesota were an example of federal prosecutors being “deprofessionalized.”
“We wonder in how many other offices the same lack of confidence is taking its toll,” Schumer said.
Heffelfinger was not among the eight fired U.S. attorneys and has said he left of his own accord. However, Paulose was one of 15 federal prosecutors appointed after Congress changed the USA Patriot Act to let the Justice Department fill vacant U.S. attorney jobs without judicial review. She was confirmed by the Senate in December 2006.
In a statement Friday, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse described Paulose as “dedicated to leading an effective U.S. Attorney’s office in Minnesota and enforcing the laws to ensure public safety.”
“Three managers have determined to go back to the line to be full-time prosecutors protecting the community they serve and the department respects their decisions,” Roehrkasse said. “We are confident during this transition period that the U.S. Attorney’s office will remain focused on its law enforcement priorities.”
Marti, Mozangue and Lackner did not immediately return phone messages Friday.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing sources it said did not want to be identified discussing staffing changes, reported that the three were unhappy with Paulose’s management style.
Tim Anderson, a non-attorney who had been acting office administrator, also left his management role, the Minneapolis office confirmed. He declined to comment to the AP on Friday.
Associated Press writer Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.