updated 2/15/2007 2:49:13 PM ET 2007-02-15T19:49:13

Senate Republicans blocked a bill Thursday that would curb the Justice Department’s power to fire and replace federal prosecutors. Democrats had sought to give the courts a role in the appointments of U.S. attorneys, to GOP opposition.

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The objection by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to the proposal was long anticipated. So Democrats used the occasion to complain anew about the firings of at least seven prosecutors, some without cause, under a little-known part of the Patriot Act.

Democrats say Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used the law to get around the Senate confirmation process and install Republican allies.

“I believe that their intent was to bring in people from the outside to give some of their bright people an opportunity,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “That is wrong.”

Her bill says a replacement U.S. attorney could serve no longer than 120 days without confirmation. After that time, an interim replacement would be named by a U.S. District Court.

Gonzales, Kyl and other Republicans say this approach could lead prosecutors to be appointed for reasons other than their qualifications.

Republican and Democratic leaders tried for a compromise that might lengthen the 120-day period or curb a district court’s appointment power, but those efforts were abandoned early Thursday, according to officials on both sides.

A private briefing Wednesday night by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty did not change any Democrats’ minds about the firings of the prosecutors, senators said.

‘Too many holes in too many different places’
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that if the Justice Department does not provide detailed performance reports on the fired prosecutors, the Senate Judiciary Committee would subpoena them.

“I am not satisfied with the answers we’ve gotten. There are just too many holes in too many different places,” Schumer said.

Newly empowered Democrats are seeking to curb what they say is the Bush administration’s virtually unchecked power during the years of GOP congressional control. Yet the version of the Patriot Act that contains the disputed provision passed overwhelmingly last year with bipartisan support.

Senators from both parties, including the Republican author of the law, say they were unaware of the way the Justice Department might use that rule.

Gonzales has said that he intends to submit the name of every newly installed prosecutor to the Senate for confirmation.

Democrats contend that prosecutors were forced to resign to make way for Republicans’ political allies and that the White House slipped the provision into the Patriot Act to permit such indefinite appointments.

Federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, subject to Senate confirmation. U.S. attorneys can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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