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Monday, July 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:16 P.M.

Prosecutor scolded for pushing political agenda

By Wiley Hall
The Associated Press

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BALTIMORE — Maryland's U.S. attorney has been ordered to submit proposed public corruption indictments to superiors for approval after he exhorted his staff to produce three "front page" indictments of elected officials by the first week of November.

Democratic officials said two e-mails this month and an earlier memo showed that U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio, a Republican appointee of President Bush, was conducting partisan prosecutions and called for his resignation.

In a letter yesterday to DiBiagio, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Comey ordered the prosecutor to submit any proposed indictments in public corruption cases to him.

"We can never allow political considerations — or the perception of such considerations — to taint the work done by our dedicated investigators and prosecutors," Comey said.

DiBiagio, in a statement released late yesterday, said he regretted sending any improper message.

The controversy started Thursday, when The (Baltimore) Sun published documents including DiBiagio's agenda for a May staff meeting, which outlined goals he wants to accomplish by "Nov. 6" to make the Maryland U.S. attorney's office the nation's "premier office." He wrote that he wanted "Three 'Front Page' White Collar/Public Corruption Indictments" by that date.

On July 1, he pointed to indictments that had been unsealed against city officials in Philadelphia and wrote, "Why aren't we doing cases like this?"

Two days later, after some top advisers said his tone was too harsh, he sent another e-mail to his staff. DiBiagio said he was trying to motivate workers, and that he did not mean to single out "elected officials."

The only known investigation of municipal elected officials under way in DiBiagio's office is into the 19-member, all-Democratic Baltimore City Council. DiBiagio's office has subpoenaed all the members for five years of documents detailing their financial dealings.

"For nearly three years Mr. DiBiagio has used the U.S. attorney's office primarily for political witch hunts, and now we have damning evidence to prove what many have long suspected," Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett said. "Mr. DiBiagio must step down."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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