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J. Timothy Griffin was sworn in as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas on Dec. 20, less than a week after his appointment prompted unusual public expressions of outrage from both of the state’s U.S. senators.
The outrage stems from the way Griffin was appointed. Instead of following the normal process, which would involve a presidential nomination and confirmation by the U.S. Senate, the Bush administration utilized a provision in the 2005 reauthorization of the Patriot Act that allows the attorney general to appoint an “interim U.S. attorney” without Senate confirmation. Therefore, Griffin, 38, will serve as interim U.S. attorney until he is formally nominated or replaced by the president.
Interim appointments are usually made to fill vacancies, but Griffin was named to the U.S. attorney post on Dec. 15, while it was still occupied by Bud Cummins.
Cummins resigned on Dec. 20.
“Quite frankly, within the legal community in Central Arkansas and even Eastern Arkansas, they felt Bud was being pushed out so Tim could be rewarded with this position he wanted,” said Michael Teague, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.
U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said, “Clearly, the president and his administration are aware of the difficulty it would take to get Tim Griffin confirmed through the normal process, and therefore chose to circumvent it in order to name him as interim U.S. attorney. This decision denied the Senate the opportunity to carefully consider and evaluate Mr. Griffin’s qualifications and denied the American people the transparency the standard nomination process provides.”
“The White House worked very hard to get him this job and keep him from going under oath and answer questions about his political life,” Teague added. “We’re not saying there should not be a process to name an interim position, but it should be done in good faith that a permanent replacement will be named at some point. The White House has indicated to the senator that Tim Griffin is their person, so the question is, if he is their person, why not nominate him? It’s an effort to keep him from going under oath.”
Asked to respond to 10 written questions regarding his appointment, Griffin provided the following statement: “As a fifth-generation Arkansan and the spouse of an Arkansas native, I love Arkansas and its people. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of Arkansas as U.S. attorney. The strength of this office lies with the many career professionals who work here. My top priority is to ensure that all Arkansans are treated equally under the law. I look forward to working with federal, state and local law enforcement to make Arkansas a safer place to live.”
Griffin had worked for Cummins as a special assistant since September, after a year of active duty in the U.S. Army — first as a prosecutor at Fort Campbell, Ky., and then as a Judge Advocate General with the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq.
Before that, Griffin was deputy director of the White House Political Affairs Office (where he served under Political Affairs Director Karl Rove), and Lincoln and Pryor both suggest that Griffin’s appointment as U.S. attorney is a reward for his service in the Bush administration.
“I do not know Tim Griffin personally,” Lincoln said. “However, I have concerns about his partisan activities over a four-year period under Karl Rove in the White House, which causes me to question his ability to perform the duties of U.S. attorney in a fair and impartial manner.”
“We all know what’s going on here,” Teague said. “He’s being rewarded with this post for his political work.”
That political work includes serving from 1995-96 as an associate independent counsel investigating Henry Cisneros, who was President Bill Clinton’s secretary of housing and urban development; senior investigative counsel to the Republican-controlled House Government Reform Committee’s 1997-99 inquiry into foreign contributions to the Democratic National Committee; deputy research director for the Republican National Committee from 1999-2000; legal adviser to the Bush/Cheney recount team in Florida following the 2000 election; special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff from 2001-02; and research director and deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee from 2002-05, after which he joined the White House political affairs office.
The British Broadcasting Corporation unearthed e-mail messages Griffin sent from the RNC in 2004 containing spreadsheet information on thousands of Florida voters. The spreadsheets were titled “caging,” which, according to the BBC, alludes to a voter suppression tactic.
Teague says that episode, and Griffin’s other political work, explains why Griffin won’t submit to the traditional confirmation process.
“Bud had to go through the process,” Teague said. “What makes this guy so special? What are they trying to hide? Why not go under oath and allow the people of Eastern Arkansas to ask questions about his qualifications for the job? His primary professional occupation has been political research and political campaigns.”
Griffin’s legal experience includes a year as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock while he worked for Chertoff, but Teague says there were more qualified candidates, and that Griffin will be hindered by the controversy surrounding his appointment.
“No one in the Arkansas legal community knows Tim Griffin,” Teague said. “The people of Eastern Arkansas deserve an all-star attorney and there are a bunch of them in this state. … The decisions he makes there will always be suspect. He won’t have the full weight the office would have if he had gone through the nomination process.”
Teague says that Pryor will continue to pressure the Bush administration to formally nominate Griffin or someone else.
“The idea that they will go two years and say they can’t find somebody — it’s an insult to Arkansas,” Teague said. “If he goes through the process and wins, then he’s bona fide. The question for Tim and the White House is: Why not do that? Why not be bona fide?”
Griffin is a native of Magnolia. He graduated from Hendrix College and Tulane Law School, and attended graduate school at Oxford University in England. He is married to the former Elizabeth Crain.
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