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the New York Times

Nominee for a Top Justice Dept. Post Withdraws

David Johnston

WASHINGTON, June 22 - The Bush administration's nominee to be the Justice Department's third-highest official withdrew his name from consideration on Friday in advance of a scheduled confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
The official, William W. Mercer, who has held the job of associate attorney general on a temporary basis since September 2006, will return to his job as United States attorney in Montana, which he kept pending his confirmation.0623 05

Although Mr. Mercer is staying at the agency, he is the sixth official to step down from a senior post at its headquarters in the uproar over the dismissals of federal prosecutors.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which was to hold next week's hearing, called Mr. Mercer's withdrawal an effort to keep information about the dismissals from the panel.

"The White House has found many ways to keep sunlight from reaching some of the darker corners of the Bush Justice Department, but this is a new one," Mr. Leahy said. "With a confirmation hearing looming next Tuesday, they have withdrawn this nomination to avoid having to answer more questions under oath."

Mr. Mercer appeared to have played a peripheral role in talks that led to the ousters, but he exchanged messages with several prosecutors after their dismissals and his name was on some of the e-mail disclosed by the department.

In a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Friday, Mr. Mercer said he had concluded that even if he went ahead with the hearing, it was unlikely that his nomination would be voted on soon.

He cited "statements" by unnamed Congressional officials who he said had threatened to hold up votes on senior Justice Department nominees until the White House dropped its opposition to turning over e-mail and witnesses to the Senate.

"As a result," he wrote, "my prospects of my confirmation seem as distant today as they have been over much of the last 10 months."

Other officials who have resigned or said they will soon depart are Paul J. McNulty, deputy attorney general; D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Mr. Gonzales; Monica M. Goodling, Mr. Sampson's deputy; Michael J. Elston, Mr. McNulty's deputy; and Michael A. Battle, who led the agency's executive office.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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