Morford Named To No. 2 Spot At Justice Dept.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
President Bush named a longtime career prosecutor yesterday as acting deputy attorney general, filling a key Justice Department position at a time of widespread tumult over the U.S. attorney firings scandal.
Craig S. Morford, the interim U.S. attorney in Nashville since fall, will replace Paul J. McNulty, one of more than half a dozen senior Justice officials who have announced their departures this year.
The job usually requires Senate confirmation, but Bush administration officials did not indicate yesterday whether Morford would be officially nominated or would hold the job temporarily.
A 20-year veteran of the Justice Department, Morford has spent most of his career pursuing public-corruption and organized-crime cases in Cleveland. He was the lead prosecutor in the case of former congressman James A. Traficant Jr., an Ohio Democrat convicted of bribery and racketeering in 2002.
Morford led an internal department probe into a bungled terrorism case in Detroit, concluding in a 2004 report that prosecutors did not turn over dozens of pieces of evidence to defense attorneys. The prosecutor in that case -- the first major terrorism trial after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- was later indicted on obstruction and conspiracy charges.
"With 20 years of experience as a Justice Department prosecutor, I am pleased to have a person of Mr. Morford's exemplary character and integrity in this critical position at this time," Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said in a statement.
Nearly all of Gonzales's senior aides have left amid widening probes by Congress and the Justice Department into the prosecutor firings and related allegations of improper political influence on personnel decisions. Many potential candidates for McNulty's job were not interested, in light of the morale problems, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing personnel matters.
As deputy attorney general, Morford will be responsible for many day-to-day operations at the department.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is one of Gonzales's sharpest critics on Capitol Hill, said in a statement that he is heartened by Morford's background as a career prosecutor. McNulty spent most of his career as a Republican aide on Capitol Hill before becoming U.S. attorney in Alexandria.
"Mr. Morford starts out with one thing going for him: He's a career prosecutor and not a politician," Schumer said. "We'll be watching closely to make sure that the rule of law comes first and foremost under his watch."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who knows Morford from his work in Nashville, called him "a well-respected veteran" of the Justice Department.
Washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.