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Questions on Firing of Prosecutor in Cunningham Case

The day after then-U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego notified the Justice Department of warrants in a corruption case focused on Republicans, a DOJ official contacted the White House about "the real problem" with Lam, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Feinstein, D-Calif. and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made the claim as questions mounted about the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys last year and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' role in the case. The Justice Department was to turn over more documents to Congress on Monday, and the Senate was scheduled to take up legislation by Feinstein to reverse a change in the Patriot Act that allowed the administration to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation.

Feinstein said that Lam notified the Justice Department this past May 10 of pending search warrants in the investigation of defense contractor Brent Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who'd just stepped down as the CIA's No. 3. The warrants were part of the corruption case centered on former GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of San Diego, who is in prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and others.

On May 11, then-Justice Department chief of staff Kyle Sampson wrote an e-mail to an official in the White House counsel's office asking to discuss "the real problem that we have right now with Carol Lam" that led him to believe she should be replaced. That e-mail was included in documents released by the Justice Department last week.

Justice Department officials have said that Lam was let go because of insufficient prosecution of gun crimes and immigration violations. Gonzales has denied that any of the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys were connected with investigations they were pursuing.

But Feinstein has said that despite those denials she believes Lam's dismissal had something to do with her prosecution of the Cunningham case. Lam's office indicted Foggo and Wilkes last month, just two days before she left her post.

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday Feinstein stopped short of claiming that Sampson's May 11 e-mail was directly related to Lam's disclosure the day before of pending warrants.

"I don't know. All I'm saying, as the evidence comes in, as we look at the e-mails, there were clearly U.S. attorneys that were thorns in the side for one reason or another of the Justice Department," she said.

"What I worry about most of all in this is the chilling effect this has on objectivity of the American U.S. attorney who is the main prosecutor for the federal government of big cases under federal law."

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