Louisiana’s U.S. senators are calling the latest scandal to rock New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office very troubling.
Sens. Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) told the New Orleans Times-Picayune they are also concerned by Letten’s silence in the five days since the allegations that a second assistant U.S. attorney may have been posting disparaging online comments about defendants and attorneys on Nola.com, the website of the Times-Picayune.
On Friday, Fred Heebe, the owner of a landfill company that is undergoing a federal probe, filed a civil lawsuit against First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, alleging she is the person behind online alias “eweman.” Heebe filed a similar suit earlier this year against longtime New Orleans federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, who admitted to posting scores of online comments criticizing a number of defendants, attorneys and judges. Perricone resigned over the controversy in March.
According to the Times-Picayune report, Mann circulated an email apologizing for the distraction being caused by the allegations. She did not admit or deny the charges, and also said she intends to fight the claims.
Letten has been mum on the latest lawsuit aside from a short statement to a reporter on Monday, asking for patience as he sorts through the allegations.
“Do not construe my delay in making a public statement about this matter to be silence,” the long-serving U.S. Attorney told the New Orleans newspaper. “As in all important matters like this, I am being deliberate and I am acting consistent with our internal protocols before making any statements to the public.”
Vitter, who has championed Letten, a Republican appointee, said the latest allegations by Heebe are “very serious.” He said he will wait to hear more from Letten’s office before making a decision about pulling support from the U.S. Attorney.
Landrieu, who can offer a recommendation on whether to keep Letten on for President Barack Obama’s second term, said she is worried. ”Jim Letten has done a fine job in so many ways, but this last situation is very troubling,” she told the Times-Picayune.
Before the second set of allegations, Letten seemed to be in good shape to continue another term as the New Orleans U.S. Attorney. But the bipartisan concern expressed by the Louisiana senators may augur that it’s time for Letten to move on. He is the longest-serving current U.S. Attorney, having been appointed in 2001 by George W. Bush.
Landrieu, who as a conservative Democrat in a red state must tread carefully, supported keeping Letten on after President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009. But Landrieu may prefer to recommend her own person for the plum prosecuting job in the upcoming second Obama administration.
The White House takes the recommendations of a state’s U.S. senators into account when selecting U.S. Attorney nominees. While the senator from the president’s own party traditionally carries more weight in the process, the Obama White House in the past weighed certain Republican senators’ recommendations as well.