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Kevin Ryan is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Northern District of California. A former deputy district attorney, Ryan has served as a municipal court judge in San Francisco and a California Superior Court judge. (CBS News 2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008; Thomas 2011) Ryan comes in after the strong but contentious tenure of his predecessor, Robert Mueller, who left in 2001 to head the FBI. Mueller was succeeded for a year by interim US Attorney David Shapiro. Mueller came to the Northern District in 1998, after his predecessor, Michael Yamaguchi, resigned under fire for letting the office’s morale sink and the caseload dwindle. Mueller fired a dozen supervisors in his first six months on the job and pushed his staff to file more cases. His critics termed Mueller a dictator, but “Main Justice” in Washington considered him a star. He revamped the office and refurbished its reputation, and successfully prosecuted several high-profile cases. When Mueller left to join the FBI, the Justice Department wanted to find someone equally capable to replace him. Ryan is not only a respected judge, but a devoted Republican who routinely listens to Rush Limbaugh in his court chambers. Former federal prosecutor Rory Little says of Ryan: “He’s a real Boy Scout. He believes in the work.” Yamaguchi’s predecessor, Joseph Russoniello, chaired the search committee that selected Ryan for the job. Russoniello said that although Ryan lacks federal court experience, that deficiency should not hinder his ability to head the office. In 2002, he told a reporter, “What is important is the capacity to manage a lot of people who do have a deep understanding of the rules.” (Kuz 10/4/2006) There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
US Attorney Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) undergoes his first Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) performance evaluation, as mandated by the Justice Department. The final report states that “the overall evaluation was positive,” and that Ryan is “dedicated to the effective management of the office and to the priorities of the attorney general.” The report calls him an effective leader, and says that the area “judiciary was favorably impressed with the new United States Attorney.” (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008) A follow-up letter indicates that Ryan’s office received a slightly higher-than-average cumulative assessment score in comparison to US Attorneys’ offices nationwide. The office was singled out for success in implementing the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative, designed to reduce gun violence in districts, and its work in combating corporate fraud. (US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 5/21/2007)
The chief judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California sends news articles about US Attorney for the Northern District of California Kevin Ryan (see August 2, 2002) to Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis. For some time, San Francisco newspapers have reported on turmoil and turnover in Ryan’s office, with several experienced prosecutors leaving, allegedly due to Ryan’s management style. The judge complains to Margolis about Ryan’s leadership style. Margolis discusses the situation with Mary Beth Buchanan, the head of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, and they decide to discuss the issue with Ryan. However, they take no immediate action. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008) Buchanan will later say: “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California had a long history of problems. The problems in the office predated Kevin Ryan’s tenure as the United States Attorney. Shortly after Kevin Ryan became the United States Attorney, there were discussions about his management style. I don’t recall exactly when these communications came to the attention of the Executive Office. What I can tell you is that, at some point, these communications escalated, and there were letters that were sent to the deputy attorney general, there were numerous newspaper articles that appeared in the press. And after the escalation of these concerns, I meet [sic] with Kevin Ryan and his first assistant along with David Margolis in an attempt to address some of the management concerns.… I know that Kevin Ryan had a number of significant computer crime and intellectual property cases, so I think that there were certainly good things that were done in Mr. Ryan’s office.” (US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 6/15/2007 )
The latest of several experienced prosecutors quits his job at the office of US Attorney Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002). The prosecutor sends an office-wide “open letter” to Ryan complaining about long-standing morale and attrition problems, and credits Ryan’s poor management style with creating the issue. The letter is quickly forwarded to staff members in other US Attorneys’ offices, and to the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) in the Justice Department. Complaints about Ryan have already been forwarded to the EOUSA (see Fall 2004). The chief judge in Ryan’s district, who made the earlier complaint, sends Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis the open letter and asks him to consider the issue. Margolis and EOUSA chief Mary Beth Buchanan schedule a meeting with Ryan and his First Assistant US Attorney for March 21. Margolis will later say of the meeting that he “read [Ryan] the riot act” about the issues in his office, and suggests that Ryan should ask the Justice Department to undertake a special review of his management issues. Margolis will later say that Ryan does not request such a review. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), sends a list of the 93 current US Attorneys to White House counsel Harriet Miers. Each US Attorney is listed in either plain type, boldface, or “strikeout,” meaning a line is drawn through their name. In a follow-up email on March 2, Sampson explains that, “putting aside expiring terms, the analysis on the chart I gave you is as follows:
Bold - “Recommend retaining; strong US Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.
Strikeout - “Recommend removing; weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors; chafed against administration initiatives, etc.
Nothing - “No recommendation; not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.”
On the copy of the chart released to the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, most of the US Attorneys’ names are redacted. The ones who are not redacted are listed as follows:
Paul K. Charlton, Arizona (see November 14, 2001 and December 2003): nothing;
Bud Cummins, Eastern Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002): strikeout.
Debra W. Yang, Central California: boldface.
Kevin Ryan, Northern California (see August 2, 2002 and February 2003): nothing. (Ryan’s name is in a different font than the others, suggesting that it has been re-entered; it is difficult to tell from the copy of Sampson’s chart if his name is in boldface or not.)
Carol C. Lam, Southern California (see November 8, 2002 and February 7-11, 2005): strikeout.
Patrick Fitzgerald, Northern Illinois (see October 24, 2001): nothing.
Margaret M. Chiara, Western Michigan (see November 2, 2001 and July 12-16, 2004): strikeout.
Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Minnesota: strikeout.
Dunn O. Lampton, Southern Mississippi: strikeout.
Todd P. Graves, Missouri (see October 11, 2001 and March 2002): nothing.
Daniel G. Bogden, Nevada (see November 2, 2001 and February 2003): nothing.
Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey (see December 20, 2001): boldface.
David C. Iglesias, New Mexico (see October 18, 2001 and 2002): boldface.
Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Central North Carolina: strikeout.
Mary Beth Buchanan, Western Pennsylvania: boldface.
John McKay Jr., Western Washington (see October 24, 2001 and May 2002): strikeout.
Steven M. Biskupic, Wisconsin: strikeout.
Thomas A. Zonay, Vermont: boldface.
On March 2, Sampson sends an email to Miers indicating some revisions to the chart. Heffelfinger and Biskupic have their statuses changed to “strikeout” (referenced above), and Matt Orwig, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, is listed in boldface. Miers, a Texas native, responds, “Good to hear about Matt actually.” Sampson replies, somewhat cryptically and with careless punctuation and capitalization: “yes he’s good. oversight by me.” (US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 6/15/2009 )
Deputy Attorney General James Comey expresses his concerns with US Attorney Kevin Ryan (see Fall 2004 and January 31 - March 21, 2005) to Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) and the person in charge of the Justice Department’s planned purge of US Attorneys. On his initial list of US Attorneys, Sampson labeled Ryan as “strong” and did not list him as ripe for ousting (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Comey tells Sampson that he considers Ryan a weak performer based on the documented morale problems in the office. Other Justice Department officials such as Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis and Executive Office for US Attorneys chief Mary Beth Buchanan share similar concerns with Sampson around this time. Comey tells Sampson that he knows Buchanan’s office is concerned about Ryan and is working with Margolis to address the problems. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), asks Acting Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Mercer for his opinion on the performance of a number of US Attorneys. (Mercer is also a US Attorney.) Mercer will later state that Sampson does not say that there is a plan to fire some of the Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, March 2, 2005, and March 23, 2005), but Mercer understands that such is Sampson’s purpose in asking his opinion. Sampson says that changes might be made in certain districts with productivity problems or policy compliance issues. Mercer will later recall discussing issues with US Attorney Carol Lam’s immigration records (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, and September 23, 2005), and will recall discussions about US Attorney Kevin Ryan as well. Mercer will say he and Sampson may discuss other Attorneys as well, but will state he cannot recall who those Attorneys might be. Mercer gets the sense that Sampson is speaking with other people about the issue, but does not know who those people might be. Mercer will say that he and Sampson do not discuss the issue again until December 2006, when the firing plan is activated (see December 7, 2006). (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
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