Justice Dept. Rebukes U.S. Attorney in Md.
Comey told DiBiagio that his "intentions may not have been accurately reflected" in the documents but said, "We can never allow political considerations -- or the perception of such considerations -- to taint the work done by our dedicated investigators and prosecutors."
DiBiagio declined to be interviewed yesterday. In a statement, he acknowledged receiving the letter and said he would comply. "I regret sending any improper message with regard to the investigation of public corruption matters," he said.
If Bush is reelected, he will decide whether DiBiagio is reappointed, though presidents frequently defer to the judgment of the top elected official of their party in the state -- in this case, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Ehrlich's spokesman said the governor would not comment on the controversy.
DiBiagio's combative style has ruffled feathers at the Justice Department in the past. In 2002, he wrote a memo, which surfaced publicly, strongly criticizing the FBI's Baltimore field office for failing to pursue white-collar crime investigations. He clashed repeatedly with Gary Bald, now a senior FBI counterterrorism official in Washington, when Bald was the special agent in charge in Maryland.
One of DiBiagio's predecessors, Stephen H. Sachs, said yesterday that the e-mails were "a woefully inartful and stupid way of expressing his desire to do as much as he can to establish his legacy."
"I think he saw the end is near," said Sachs, a Democrat. "One way or another, I think Tom saw that the election was going to mark a passage for him. In view of today's development, it would be much more likely that [DiBiagio's superiors] would want to make a change. They've now said to the U.S. attorney that you are on a short leash."
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, called DiBiagio "an excellent U.S. attorney," saying: "His office has done stellar work. This is an unfortunate incident, and I think the deputy attorney general handled it with this letter."
Corallo, who described the letter as "a disciplinary action basically," declined to comment on DiBiagio's prospects for a second term.
Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.
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