The Arkansas prosecutor who has become a key figure in the scandal surrounding the firing of nine U.S. attorneys is set to step down as interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove, will leave the office June 1, according to administration and Congressional sources familiar with the matter.
Griffin was appointed interim U.S. attorney in the district in December 2006 after his predecessor, H.E. "Bud" Cummins III, was fired by the Justice Department. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty would later testify that Cummins was fired not for any performance reason, but to clear the spot for another Republican.
The appointment became a flashpoint for the controversy—not only because of Griffin's background doing opposition research at the Republican National Committee— but because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appointed Griffin to the post under an obscure provision of the Patriot Act that circumvented the Senate's historic role in voting to confirm U.S. attorneys.
Gonzales maintained that the administration had intended to nominate Griffin on a permanent basis and bring him before the Senate for confirmation, but documents later released by the Justice Department indicated Gonzales' chief of staff had planned to mislead Arkansas' senators and circumvent the senate. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) would publicly accuse Gonzales of lying to him about the Justice Department's intentions regarding Griffin's appointment. Griffin had indicated earlier this year that because of the political firestorm surrounding the firings, he would not see the job on a permanent basis.
Griffin could not be reached late Wednesday to comment. Reached by telephone earlier in the day and asked about reports that he had retained the services of a Washington, D.C.-based legal job placement agency, Griffin declined to directly address his future plans.
“I’ve certainly been assessing my options in the legal community," he said. "But I don’t have any announcement to make at this time.”
Pryor's office greeted the news with relief on Wednesday. “It’s a positive development," said Pryor spokesman Michael Teague, who said the senator was informed by the Justice Department about Griffin's departure Wednesday afternoon. "I think it’s about time we restore credible leadership in the Eastern District."
Griffin will be replaced on an interim basis by Jane Duke, the first assistant U.S. attorney in the office, Teague said.