Jim Letten last week announced his resignation as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, effective Tuesday, Dec. 11. He also is retiring from the U.S. Justice Department after logging 28 years of service.
The resignation ends Letten's 11-year term as the lead federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Louisiana. At the time of his resignation, he was the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country. Letten will remain employed by the office for a "brief time," he said, to aid in the transition.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced via press release that Dana Boente, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will take over as interim U.S. Attorney in New Orleans until a permanent successor to Letten is named by President Barack Obama.
"The decision was ultimately my own," Letten said at a news conference Dec. 6. "It is, I believe, the best course of action under the circumstances."
While many names have circulated as possible contenders for Letten's job, the one person who holds that card is U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the state's ranking Democrat. Presidents historically defer to a state's senior U.S. senator or Congress member from the same party in matters of political appointments. After Letten's retirement, Landrieu praised him and said she wants to begin a thorough search for his replacement. (Read: The senator is in no hurry. Nor should she be; she's up for re-election in 2014, and her selection is sure to have political consequences for her.)
Letten's announcement comes in the midst of a scandal involving inappropriate online comments made by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone and former First Assistant Jan Mann. Perricone resigned in March. Mann has been demoted but remains employed by the office. Both may face more serious consequences. Letten declined to take questions at the news conference, and his statement did not address Mann's status or major ongoing investigations into former Mayor Ray Nagin's administration or the River Birch landfill, the subject of investigation and coments.
Letten, surrounded by staff members and standing next to his wife JoAnn Letten, promised the U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to pursue its current mission, which has been focused on public corruption in New Orleans and surrounding parishes.
"It is essential, it is really essential, that the challenges we take up, especially our current challenges, which we're going through right now, never, ever, ever threaten to distract or divert us," he said. "We have to ensure the safety, the transparency, the accountability, of honest, efficient government." — Charles Maldonado