WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is asking three of New York's four federal prosecutors to step down, officials said Thursday. The lone Democratic appointee asked to remain is Manhattan's Mary Jo White, who is investigating pardons and commutations President Clinton handed down just before leaving the White House.
Officials at the Justice Department said White had been asked to stay on indefinitely in the Southern District before the pardons controversy erupted, to finish work on the complicated terrorism case against Osama bin Laden and others accused of bombing U.S. embassies in Africa.
The Southern District of New York is centered in Manhattan. The three U.S. attorneys being asked to step down are Denise O'Donnell in the Western District, Daniel French in the Northern District and Loretta Lynch in the Eastern District.
The Western District covers the region from Rochester west to Buffalo. The Northern District covers a vast portion of the state north of the New York City suburbs and extending west past Syracuse.
The Eastern District covers Long Island and parts of Queens and Brooklyn. White's four-year term had already expired, but the other three had a minimum of 2 1/2 years left.
O'Donnell and Lynch were asked to leave by the end of May and have agreed to do so. O'Donnell submitted a resignation letter to President Bush on Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Lynch said she had been asked to resign and would comply. Unclear is what that will mean for an investigation her office has been conducting into allegations that the New York Police Department fosters abuse of minorities through lax discipline of officers who use excessive force.
French, vacationing overseas, told The Syracuse Newspapers, "I remain hopeful that the governor will intercede and allow me to serve my four-year term."
French said he was in the middle of several complicated cases that he would like to see through to a conclusion before he leaves office. Among those are cases of alleged fraud by a team of surgeons at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, alleged corruption within the Schenectady police department and an alleged drug distribution case in Albany.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who had asked Bush to let the federal prosecutors finish their terms -- a long-standing practice in New York -- expressed disappointment.
"Allowing U.S. attorneys to serve out their terms reduces the role politics plays in the administration of justice in our federal courts and enhances the stability inside each U.S. Attorney Office," the New York Democrat said.
Under a bipartisan agreement hammered out by then-Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1977, the New York senator whose party is in the White House got three out of every four judicial picks, and U.S. attorneys confirmed by the Senate have been allowed to serve out their terms. There are currently no federal judicial vacancies in New York.
The Bush administration is not alone in clearing out federal prosecutors appointed by the previous administration.
When Bill Clinton took the White House in 1992, he initially fired most federal prosecutors appointed by his Republican predecessors. But the arrangement was so chaotic that Clinton eventually opted instead for a more gradual system of replacing GOP holdovers.