The name of John M. Dowd, a Justice Department prosecutor with a reputation for aggressively pursuing organized crime, surfaced yesterday as a candidate for U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
But Sen. William L. Scott (R-Va.), who brought up the name and has immense influence over the nomination, immediately questioned whether Dowd's candidacy was part of a Carter administration effort to "reward" officials involved in the controversy over the firing of Philadelphia U.S. Attorney David W. Marston.
Dowd, 35, prosecuted a series of Small Business Administration bribery cases in Virginia over the past few years. He also carried out an internal Justice Department investigation of financial corruption by high FBI officials.
Currently, Dowd's organized crime strike force in Washington is leading criminal investigations that have become part of a national controversy because of the Marston dismissal.
President Carter has yet to nominate candidates for either of the U.S. attorney posts in Virginia. William Cummings, the Republican holdover in the eastern district, said yesterday that he was aware candidates were being considered for his job.
A Justice Department spokesman said only that Dowd was one of several persons being considered for the eastern district job.
Democratic state party chairman Joseph T. Fitzpatrick, a frequent critic of the administration's failure to move swiftly to replace the Republican prosecutors, said in a telephone interview from Richmond that he was surprised to hear Dowd's name mentioned.
Scott raised Dowd's name during yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of Benjamin R. Civiletti to be deputy attorney general. Scott and other Republican members of the committee have been using the hearings to explore charges that Democratic officials may have obstructed justice in the Marston dismissal.
Scott questioned why both Dowd and Russell T. Baker Jr., another official involved in the Marston case, were being mentioned or named as U.S. attorneys. Baker, a former top aide to Civiletti, recently was named acting U.S. attorney for Maryland.
"Both these men are being recommended," Scott said. "There's serious doubt in my mind of the basis for this. Is this a reward or an effort to disperse people involved in the Philadelphia situation?"
Dowd and Baker both signed sworn affidavits in January about their knowledge of a Justice Department investigation of Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.).
Marston, a Republican, was dismissed following an Eilberg call to President Carter last Nov. 4 in which he demanded the prosecutor's dismissal. Marston said that Eilberg was a possible target of investigation by his office at the time.
Marston said he told Baker about the investigation and Baker said he passed on the word to his boss, Civiletti. But Civiletti has testified he has no such recollection.
Dowd, head of an organized crime strike force, is involved because his debriefing of government witness Stephen B. Elko in mid-December led to the first real evidence that Eilberg and another Pennsylvania Democrat, Rep. Daniel Flood, were subjects of the Philadelphia investigation.
Dowd's name also has been mentioned as a possible successor to Marston in Philadelphia. Attorney General Griffin B. Bell announced that he probably would appoint former Senate Watergate committee counsel Samuel Dash to the job, but has been hesitating lately.
Scott said he thought it was "highly unusual" that Dowd was not licensed to practice law in Virginia. "I just don't believe that the people of any state would look with favor on someone who has not been admitted to the bar in their state," he said.
Dowd said in a telephone interview yesterday he submitted his name for consideration as U.S. attorney in Virginia in December 1976, "on the recommendation of friends who practice in the state."
He said he'd received "support" recently from Lt. Gov. Charles Robb, the only major Democratic officeholder in the state.
He said he had visited with Scott and Virginia's other U.S. senator, Harry F. Byrd Jr., an independent, in their Capitol Hill offices last week.
"I enjoyed the time I spent in Richmond prosecuting the SBA cases," Dowd said."I live in Virginia and intend to make my permanent residence there. I would like to be the U.S. attorney there."