Former U.S. attorneys argue the GOP case in House races

By Paul Kane
Sunday, June 6, 2010

NBC may have canceled "Law & Order," but House Republicans are trying to create their own version of the drama this fall.

From Little Rock to Scranton, Republicans are fielding congressional candidates -- particularly a trio of former U.S. attorneys -- whose most prominent credential is prosecuting criminals. Running in districts held by Democrats, the GOP candidates are betting that their prosecutions in cases ranging from illegal immigration to local corruption will trump questions about their connections to the Bush White House.

"You're wearing the white hat, protecting people and seeing justice done," Patrick Meehan, a former U.S. attorney for southeastern Pennsylvania, said in explaining the appeal of ex-federal prosecutors.

On May 18, Meehan was one of three former U.S. attorneys to win the Republican nomination for a House seat; a fourth lost in her primary. That follows on the heels of former U.S. attorney Chris Christie's November win in the New Jersey governor's race.

A year ago, as Republicans charted a course back to political relevance, they shifted their candidate recruitment efforts away from the usual prospects -- state legislators and local city council members. Instead, aides said, Rep. Pete Sessions (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, targeted what he called "community leaders," ranging from physicians to professional sports stars. Former U.S. attorneys were among that group.

So along came Meehan, as well as Thomas Marino, a former U.S. attorney for northeastern Pennsylvania, and Timothy Griffin, a former interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock.

The potential vulnerability of the three Republican candidates is the connections required to land the U.S. attorney jobs in the first place. They are derisively called "Bush retreads" by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, because they all won their appointments after being nominated by then-President George W. Bush.

"Middle-class families will reject these Washington-insider Republican candidates for representing a return to the failed Bush agenda, and they won't be able to hide from their dirty records," said DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer.

Griffin, a former staffer for a House committee, the Republican National Committee and the Bush White House, was named interim U.S. attorney in 2006. The Justice Department had fired eight incumbent prosecutors in a push to replace them with newer, younger U.S. attorneys. Griffin, now 41, was a protege of Bush adviser Karl Rove. An e-mail from a top Justice official said Griffin was getting the post because it "was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.," referring to then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and Rove.

Griffin is touting his military service, as well as his law career, in his campaign. With veteran Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) retiring, a pair of Democrats are still locked in a fight for the Tuesday primary to determine who will take on Griffin in the fall.

Marino is running against second-term Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.). Marino, who resigned as U.S. attorney in late 2007, has come under fire for accepting a job with a local businessman who was under federal investigation for political contributions connected to efforts to win a casino license.

Meehan led the prosecution of one of the most powerful state senators in Harrisburg and oversaw a highly sensitive corruption probe of Philadelphia's City Hall. "In a job like this, there's the capacity to be exposed to many significant issues," he said.

He is regarded as the most promising of the three candidates, having raised more than $1.2 million, but he is running in a tough district, where Barack Obama won 56 percent of the vote in 2008. Marino has had trouble galvanizing his campaign and has collected less than $150,000 in contributions.

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