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Bush Picks Justice No. 2

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

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WASHINGTON — 

A federal prosecutor who helped put a former Democratic lawmaker behind bars was named Wednesday as the Justice Department's No. 2 official.

Craig S. Morford, the U.S. attorney in Nashville, Tenn., is President Bush's choice for acting deputy attorney general. He will replace Paul McNulty, who announced his resignation in May.

Morford is a career prosecutor who has pursued organized crime and public corruption in Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee for the past 20 years.

He is perhaps best known for his case against former Rep. James Traficant. The Ohio Democrat was convicted in 2002 of accepting bribes and gifts from businessmen in exchange for intervening with government agencies. Traficant is serving an eight-year sentence in a federal prison in Pennsylvania.

Morford said he had no idea he was getting the job until Attorney General Alberto Gonzales came to his office in Nashville on Wednesday before giving a speech on drug enforcement.

He said he planned to take the job out of "a great sense of duty for the people who work for the Department of Justice and the institution of justice. I felt I had a duty to do this."

He said he has never seen any politicization of his work, which included prosecuting the highly charged case of Tom Noe, a former GOP fundraiser convicted of stealing $2 million from an Ohio state investment in rare coins.

He called the Noe case "as significant a public corruption case as you can have, at a critical time just before a major election ... and throughout the process, I ... never, ever, ever got one call from anyone asking me to do or not to do something. If something is going on across the board, I've never seen it."

Morford's appointment comes at a sensitive time for the department. Democrats contend that politics motivated last year's firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Congress is investigating the ousters. The department also has begun an internal inquiry into whether career lawyers were hired by Gonzales and his top aides on the basis of their loyalty to the Republican Party, in violation of federal law.

On Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Gonzales to clear up apparent conflicts in his testimony about the prosecutor firings that of former top Justice Department officials. He sent written questions to Gonzales so he can prepare for his next appearance before the committee, scheduled for July 24.

Senate Democrats have made clear they want a career prosecutor in the department's No. 2 job as a condition for confirmation. Morford will hold the job in an acting capacity, which does not require confirmation. It was not clear whether Bush intends to nominate Morford for the job on a permanent basis.

Morford "starts out with one thing going for him: He's a career prosecutor and not a politician," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the department's most vocal critics. "We'll be watching closely to make sure that the rule of law comes first and foremost under his watch."

Gonzales, in a statement, highlighted Morford's credibility as a career prosecutor.

"With 20 years of experience as a Justice Department prosecutor," Gonzales said of the nominee, "I am pleased to have a person of Mr. Morford's exemplary character and integrity in this critical position at this time."

In Nashville and Detroit, Morford served as interim U.S. attorney, meaning he was appointed by the president but not confirmed by the Senate. He has been in Nashville for less than a year.

In 2004, Morford was named a department special counsel and given the job of reviewing the convictions of three North African immigrants in the nation's first major terrorism prosecution after the Sept. 11 attacks. Ultimately, he recommended that a federal judge toss out verdicts against two of the men after finding that government prosecutors failed to turn over documents to the defense lawyers.

As an assistant U.S. attorney who at one point oversaw all criminal investigations in the Cleveland federal prosecutor's office, Morford directed a 10-year corruption probe that led to scores of convictions in the Youngstown, Ohio, area. Morford's prosecutions led to more than 70 convictions, including a judge, a prosecutor, a sheriff and a Traficant aide.

"That whole structure of corruption had a stranglehold on that community, and through no small part due to Craig that stranglehold has been broken," said Greg White, U.S. attorney for northern Ohio.

Morford also was a trial attorney with the Internal Revenue Service from 1984 to 1987. He received his law degree from Valparaiso University.

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Associated Press writer Travis Loller in Nashville contributed to this report.

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Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov

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