Washington The former U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., Todd Graves, said Wednesday that he was asked to step down from his job by a senior Justice Department official in January 2006, months before eight other federal prosecutors would be fired by the Bush administration.
Graves said he was told simply that he should resign to "give another person a chance." He said he did not oppose the department's request, because he had already been planning to return to private practice. He did, however, appeal to Missouri's senior senator to try to persuade the White House to allow him to remain long enough to prosecute a final, important case - involving the murder of a pregnant woman and kidnapping of her 8-month fetus. Justice officials rejected the request.
The former prosecutor's disclosure, in an interview on the eve of a second appearance today by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before lawmakers investigating the firings, means that the administration began moving to replace U.S. attorneys five months earlier than was previously known. It also means that at least nine prosecutors were asked to resign last year, a deviation from repeated suggestions by Gonzales and other senior Justice officials in congressional testimony and other public statements that the firings did not extend beyond the eight prosecutors already known to have been forced out.
Gonzales is to testify before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, three weeks after he was grilled on the issue by Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Graves said he received a telephone call shortly after New Year's Day 2006 from Michael Battle, then director of the department's Executive Office for United States Attorneys. Graves said Battle told him that department officials wanted to change leadership in the Kansas City office, emphasizing "there are no performance issues."
The characterization - that Graves was being moved out simply to give someone else a turn at the job - is practically identical to the explanation that Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock, has said he was given last June, when he, too, was asked to leave. He was replaced by an aide to President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove. The seven other U.S. attorneys were all dismissed on a single day in December.
Graves said his conversation with Battle "made clear to me the fact I was getting a push. I felt like I was no longer welcome in the department," he said. "It wasn't like I was trying to hang on."
Battle did not respond to calls placed to his home and law office Wednesday night.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., confirmed Wednesday that Graves had contacted the senator's office after the Justice official suggested he leave - and that the senator had asked the White House for an extension of Graves' tenure, which was not granted.
Graves announced his resignation on March 10, 2006, and left the office two weeks later.
A Justice spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, declined Wednesday night to comment on Graves' remarks.