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Lam’s Firing Beginning of the End for Gonzales

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Aired 4/19/09

San Diego's former U.S. attorney is remaining silent on news that her old boss, Alberto Gonzales, is quitting. Critics of the outgoing attorney general say politics forced out Carol Lam and several other prosecutors in February. A San Diego law professor says Lam's firing eventually forced Gonzales to resign. KPBS reporter Andrew Phelps has the story.

Carol Lam has spoken publicly just once since leaving the U.S. attorney's office. She told Congress in March that she was given "little or no information" about her firing.

Lam has slipped into obscurity as the general counsel for San Diego-based Qualcomm, a cell phone chipmaker busy with a patent dispute.

Lam's secretary told KPBS and several other news outlets she won't talk about the attorney general's resignation.

Steinberg: That's extremely prudent on her part. I'm sure Carol Lam has been tempted at times to come out and say something as various theories have been floated.

That's criminal law professor David Steinberg at San Diego's Thomas Jefferson school. He thinks Lam's firing initiated the slow demise of the attorney general.

Steinberg: People viewed her as extremely effective.

Lam's departure drew the sharpest criticism among Democrats because she prosecuted Republican "Duke" Cunningham. The ex-Congressman from Rancho Santa Fe is serving eight years in federal prison for corruption.

San Diego Democratic Representative Susan Davis suspects the attorney general had a political hand in Carol Lam's dismissal.

Davis: I don't think we ever got a straight answer on it, but clearly there was some involvement there, and that's not appropriate. He had highly politicized his office. We saw that in a number of different ways.

Going forward, Davis says the process to replace Gonzales should be transparent. She says the future A.G. should not be a close confidant of the president's, but someone who's competent.

David Steinberg says San Diegans should care about the process, too.

Steinberg: Of potential sites for terrorist attacks, San Diego unfortunately has to be on the list I think for a couple of reasons. First the strong military presence makes it a plausible target. Second, we're so close to the border.

Steinberg says one thing Gonzales can't be called is weak on terrorism.

Andrew Phelps, KPBS News.

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