U.S. attorney asserts politics had no place in his decisions

WASHINGTON—The U.S. attorney in Milwaukee said Saturday that political self-preservation was never a factor in his decision to prosecute a Democratic state official for corruption before last year's election, and that he was never pressured by the Bush administration or the president's political aides to pursue the case.

Steven M. Biskupic also said in his five years as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, he has brought at least a dozen cases against Republican contributors or individuals with party ties. Further, he asserted he has declined to prosecute several allegations of Democratic voter fraud pushed by Republicans.

Biskupic's remarks came in response to a report by McClatchy Newspapers that congressional investigators saw his name on a Justice Department list targeting certain U.S. attorneys for removal because of perceptions they had performed poorly or were disloyal to the administration.

In a prepared statement and a telephone interview, Biskupic did not assert that he was targeted as political retaliation. "I have no idea either when, how, or why I was on this list," he said.

Lawmakers learned of the list weeks ago through their investigation into whether politics improperly influenced the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. They also want to know whether U.S. attorneys who remained may have responded inappropriately to political pressure.

The Justice Department's inability to satisfy lawmakers' concerns has put Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' job on the line. Asked to assess Gonzales' leadership, Biskupic declined comment.

"I have concerns that these circumstances have come together," he said. "I'm a career prosecutor and my concerns are for the Department of Justice as a whole."

The Justice Department declined immediate comment Saturday.

An appeals court this month threw out the Thompson conviction, saying the evidence was too thin. Biskupic said Saturday, "There is no connection between the decision to charge Georgia Thompson and my job status," At the time of the case, he said, "I had no belief that my job status was ever in jeopardy."

It was Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, who kept an unofficial ranking of U.S. attorneys that rated them as loyal and strong performers, as neutral, or as worthy of removal. The Justice Department has insisted that the list was not official and was never acted upon. Biskupic said he believes the list had "no credibility" with the department.

Biskupic said he began to suspect his name might have been on the target list weeks ago, after the White House acknowledged that Bush political adviser Karl Rove passed along to Gonzales complaints about voter fraud in Milwaukee. He said he confirmed his suspicions through contacts he would not disclose—but said he has not been told anything official by the Justice Department.

While Congress became interested in whether Biskupic's conviction of state worker Georgia Thompson last year might have contributed to the administration's decision to keep him, investigators are as interested in what prompted his name to be added to the list in the first place.

The congressional source who confirmed that Biskupic's name appeared on a target list also said it was unclear when he was targeted.

For that reason, Biskupic's statements about having prosecuted Republicans and having turned down voter fraud prosecutions that might have hurt Democrats could be of particular interest to Congress.