WASHINGTON—A leader of an influential conservative legal group recommended a replacement candidate for the U.S. attorney in San Diego just days after the sitting prosecutor's name was secretly placed on a Justice Department firing list, according to a document released Wednesday.
The recommendation by the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo, came before anyone outside of a tight group in the White House and Justice Department knew about a nascent strategy that ultimately led to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
It could not be determined whether a short e-mail, sent on March 7, 2005, making the recommendation meant that Leo knew of the plan to fire Carol Lam or whether his message was unsolicited and coincidental.
The subject line of Leo's e-mail to Mary Beth Buchanan, then-director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, says, "USA San Diego," indicating the top prosecutor job for the Southern District of California. Lam was on the job at the time and had no plans to step down.
The text of the note reads, "You guys need a good candidate?" Leo goes on to say he would "strongly recommend" the Air Force's general counsel, Mary Walker.
Walker led a Pentagon working group in 2003, which critics said helped provide the administration with a rationale to circumvent the international Geneva Conventions banning torture in the interrogations of terrorism suspects.
Leo, the Justice Department and Walker could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. Lam declined comment.
The Justice Department turned over the e-mail to Congress as part of a probe into last year's firings of U.S. attorneys.
While the Justice Department has given no direct reason for Lam's firing, officials criticized her handling of immigration and gun cases. Nonetheless, Lam drew positive job evaluations and has testified that she was given no notice of any concerns.
Democrats have questioned whether her firing was connected to her office's high-profile corruption prosecutions implicating Republicans.
Lam's name first appeared on what is believed to have been the Justice Department's earliest target list of prosecutors in late February 2005.
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