WASHINGTON – The Republican patronage machine was in full motion early in the Ronald Reagan era, filling countless positions with the faithful. From his high perch at the Justice Department, Rudy Giuliani was not always willing to go along.
Senators accustomed to having their way with certain administration appointments when their party took power bristled when Giuliani put candidates for U.S. attorney on ice. Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Arlen Specter complained directly to President Reagan that Giuliani ignored his calls and stopped answering his letters.
South Dakota’s Republican senators told Attorney General William French Smith it was unacceptable for Giuliani to resist their choice of a Reagan loyalist who had little experience in federal court.
“We were shocked last week to receive a letter from Associate Attorney General Rudolph W. Giuliani indicating that the Justice Department takes exception,” Sens. James Abdnor and Larry Pressler wrote, in papers released by the National Archives. The senators said indignantly that their selection followed “the most democratic and open procedure ever used in filling patronage positions in the state.”
In another rebuff, Giuliani objected to a Connecticut senator’s pick for U.S. marshal, telling the lawmaker his candidate “appears to have no law enforcement background.”
Giuliani papers made public by the archives open a window into the Republican presidential hopeful’s work as the No. 3 official in the Reagan Justice Department from May 1981 to June 1983. He was responsible for criminal investigations and supervised the nation’s U.S. attorneys offices.
The agency released 56 boxes of correspondence and records from his files in response to requests from researchers, while holding back sensitive documents.
Researchers still poring over the papers have not found a rash of politically tinged firings of the kind that have jeopardized the job of the current attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.
But hiring was often political, and Giuliani routinely considered requests to advance the favored candidates of senators, House members and other partisans, in a process used with variations by successive administrations.
The boldly named Federal Patronage Committee for the Republican Party of Louisiana, for example, recommended judges for the state and asked for the existing federal prosecutor to stay in place.
Giuliani met weekly with Paul A. Russo, Reagan’s special assistant for political affairs, and when Russo left the job, thanked him “for your very important contribution in the selection of United States Attorneys and Marshals.”
The papers suggest Giuliani considered the legal qualifications of the candidates and their FBI background checks, essentially screening some out and passing others on to the White House.
A spokeswoman for Giuliani’s presidential campaign, Maria Comella, said Giuliani, in the Justice Department job, “was committed to following the law and making the best decisions possible based on the merits, without regard for partisan politics, which has no place in the criminal justice system.”
Giuliani was given direct authority to remove assistant U.S. attorneys who did not measure up, but said the Justice Department would not replace them as a result of the change in administrations.
“The Department’s work is too important and complex to follow a policy that could lead to an abnormal turnover,” he wrote.
Nick Anderson/Houston Chronicle
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