By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) called yesterday on a top Justice Department official to resign his U.S. attorney's post after revelations that he worked to alter federal law so that he and a handful of other senior aides could escape residency requirements that governed their assignments as federal prosecutors.
Since 2005, William W. Mercer has served as acting associate attorney general at Justice Department headquarters in Washington as well as being the U.S. attorney in Montana, where he spends just three days a month. That has drawn the anger of a Montana federal judge who contends that Mercer is violating a federal law that requires him to live in Montana.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that on the same day in November 2005 that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured the judge that Mercer was in compliance with federal law, Mercer asked Senate aides for new legislation that would allow him and a few others to escape it.
Congress approved the change in 2006 as part of the renewal of the USA Patriot Act.
Tester said that "Mr. Mercer was operating outside federal law, so he had the law changed. That might work in Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department, but it's not how we do business in Montana."
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday that Mercer has served "effectively" in both jobs and that "any suggestion that Bill's performance of dual roles failed to comply with the law is flat wrong." Roehrkasse also said it was up to Congress to solve the situation by approving Mercer's nomination as associate attorney general, which has been pending for eight months.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), called on Mercer to choose one post or the other. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she would introduce legislation that would bar federal prosecutors from living outside their districts.