Former Minnesota U.S attorney Thomas Heffelfinger was one of 30 prosecutors the Bush administration considered firing. He eventually resigned last year, apparently voluntarily, to be replaced by the controversial 34-year-old Bush loyalist Rachel Paulose, who is “best buds with Monica Goodling.”
During yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) asked Goodling why Heffelfinger was considered for removal. Goodling said the primary reason was that he spent “an extraordinary amount of time” on prosecuting crime related to Native Americans in his district:
ELLISON: Before [Heffelfinger] resigned, was there any conversation about problems with his performance? [...]
GOODLING: There were some concerns that he spent an extraordinary amount of time as the leader of the Native American Subcommittee of the AGAC and put — clearly, people thought that that was important work, but I think there was some concern…The concern that I heard raised was just that he spent an extraordinary amount of time on the subcommittee business.
Today, Heffelfinger spoke up in outrage to Goodling’s accusations and, like several other of the fired attorneys, said “it was the first time he heard anyone from the Justice Department articulate any dissatisfaction with his performance.” In fact, the DOJ ordered Heffelfinger to pursue Native American issues.
“I did spent a lot of time on it,” Heffelfinger said of the American Indian issue. “That’s what I was instructed to do” by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Given the higher rates of violence suffered by American Indians, Heffelfinger said, the time was warranted, but it didn’t take away from other priorities.
“I had to work hard, but I was comfortable with the mix of my local responsibilities and my Native American responsibilities,” said Heffelfinger. … “I was very pointed in my dealings with main Justice to continually bring to their attention the need for focus on Native American public safety issues, because of the level of violence.”
Heffelfinger said that “as late as early fall of ’05,” months after the firings list was compiled, he met privately with Gonzales and Sampson on his work with Native Americans. “Had they had concerns about my performance, (Gonzales) had the opportunity to raise them and didn’t. So I could reasonably conclude that he didn’t have a problem with my performance,” he said.