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ALARM RISES OVER FIRING OF U.S. ATTY. IN SAN DIEGO

Times Staff Writer

Senate Democrats signaled Sunday that of the eight federal prosecutors abruptly ousted by the Bush administration, the case in San Diego is emerging as the most troubling because of new allegations that U.S. Atty. Carol C. Lam was fired in an attempt to shut down investigations into Republican politicians in Southern California.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) revealed evidence that Lam had notified Washington about search warrants in a Republican corruption case last year. Soon thereafter, a top Justice Department official in Washington wrote to the White House about a “real problem we have right now with Carol Lam.”

“As the evidence comes in, as we look at the e-mails, there were clearly U.S. attorneys that were thorns in the side for one reason or another of the Justice Department,” said Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“And they decided, by strategy, in one fell swoop to get rid of them.”

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Another Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), agreed that an investigation in San Diego, along with a parallel GOP corruption probe in Los Angeles, might have been directly linked to Lam’s firing.

“The most notorious is the Southern District of California, San Diego,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “In the middle of the investigation she was fired.”

Schumer said he was told by Justice Department officials that Lam and the other U.S. attorneys were fired because of “performance-related” problems, a reason that Schumer said the department had been unable to back up.

In fact, he said, Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul J. McNulty later apologized. “He called me on the phone and said, ‘I am sorry that I didn’t tell you the truth,’ ” Schumer said.

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According to Schumer, McNulty added: “I was not told that these things were happening by the people who were supposed to brief me” on why the eight U.S. attorneys had been fired.

“Well, gee whiz,” Schumer said. “If you’re firing someone in the middle of the most heated political investigation in America, don’t you think you ought to have a reason and know the reason?”

Lam spearheaded the case against Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the former Republican congressman from Rancho Santa Fe who pleaded guilty to bribery and income tax evasion. He was sentenced in March 2006 to eight years and four months in prison.

In a broadening of the Cunningham investigation, Feinstein said, Lam turned her sights on two of the former lawmaker’s associates: Brent R. Wilkes, a Poway-based defense contractor, and Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo, a top CIA official who abruptly resigned May 8. The two men, friends from childhood, were roommates at San Diego State University, served as best man at each other’s wedding and named their sons after each other.

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Feinstein said that on May 10, Lam “sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants sent in the case of Dusty Foggo and a defense contractor. The next day, an e-mail went from the Justice Department to the White House.”

The May 11 e-mail was from D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, to White House Deputy Counsel William Kelley. “The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam ... leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her four-year term expires,” it said.

Sampson, who resigned last week, may also have been referring in the May 11 e-mail to a report that morning in the Los Angeles Times concerning a parallel investigation by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), then the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and Bill Lowery, a former GOP congressman from San Diego who after leaving Congress founded a successful lobbying firm -- one of whose clients was Wilkes.

The Los Angeles investigation, an outgrowth of the Cunningham case, focused on the close relationship between the two men, who had served together on the House Appropriations Committee. Clients of Lowery’s lobbying firm had been awarded millions of dollars in earmarks authorized by Lewis, The Times reported, and members of Lewis’ staff had been hired by Lowery’s firm, where they worked as lobbyists for several years and then returned to Lewis’ staff.

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Lam was notified of her firing Dec. 7; she stepped down in February. Two days before leaving office, she announced federal grand jury indictments of Wilkes and Foggo.

Wilkes was accused of bribing Cunningham and Foggo, who as CIA executive director ran the agency’s daily operations, to get contracts for his companies. Wilkes was head of ADCS Inc., which initially converted documents from paper to digital formats for the military and expanded into other information technology services, and two smaller logistics and lobbying firms.

In his plea agreement, Cunningham acknowledged using his position on the defense appropriations subcommittee to get millions of dollars in federal contracts for ADCS.

Foggo, who at one time was the CIA’s deputy ethics officer, was charged with conspiracy and money laundering for failing to disclose lavish gifts, meals and trips from Wilkes.

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The indictment alleges that Foggo used his position at the CIA to pressure subordinates into awarding contracts to companies run by Wilkes; in return, Wilkes promised to hire Foggo after he retired from the agency. Details of the contracts, except for one to provide bottled water to U.S. personnel in the Middle East, are classified.

Wilkes and Foggo entered not guilty pleas last month.

Lam has declined to be interviewed, saying Friday that she did not wish to discuss the widening scandal. But in testimony on Capitol Hill on March 6, she said she could not pin her ouster on the Cunningham case or the other GOP corruption investigations it spawned.

“I’ve seen those suggestions,” she said.

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But, she added, “I was given no reason, and I did not receive any communication directly from the department about it being related to the investigation.”

The Justice Department and the White House have declined to discuss exactly why Lam was let go.

But a second e-mail from Sampson, dated May 3 and titled “Immigration Enforcement,” took Lam to task for not prosecuting more border crime cases and suggesting that she should be “woodshedded” over the matter.

That e-mail raises more questions, because Lam had received glowing evaluations for her work fighting border crime.

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Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who has monitored the U.S. attorneys scandal, said there was growing evidence that Lam’s termination might be the one most directly linked to retaliation for GOP corruption investigations.

“Lam’s situation seems to be the most obvious example, given the timing of the Sampson e-mails and the Lewis probe,” he said.

Democrats also stepped up their demands Sunday that White House political strategist Karl Rove appear before the Judiciary Committee and answer questions about whether the firings were part of an initial plan to terminate all 93 U.S. attorneys during President Bush’s second term.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said unless there was more cooperation from the White House, Rove and other administration officials would be subpoenaed.

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richard.serrano@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Carol C. Lam

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Education

Yale University, bachelor of arts, philosophy, 1981; Stanford University Law School, law degree, 1985--

Career

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* Law clerk, Judge Irving R. Kaufman, U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, 1985-1986

* Assistant U.S. attorney, Southern District of California (San Diego), 1986-1997

* Chief, major frauds section, U.S. attorney’s office, Southern District of California, 1997-2000

* Judge, Superior Court of California, Vista, 2000-2002

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* Interim U.S. attorney, Southern District of California, 2002

* U.S. attorney, Southern District of California, 2002-2007

* Senior vice president and legal counsel, Qualcomm Inc., present

Awards

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* Director’s Award for superior performance as an assistant U.S. attorney, 1994

* Attorney General’s Award for distinguished service, 2000

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Source: Who’s Who in America; Department of Justice

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