by Clancy DuBos
Sources at federal court confirm that veteran assistant U.S. Attorneys Jan and Jim Mann will "retire" by the end of the day Friday. Both have been under scrutiny — Jan Mann under fire — in connection with the ongoing online commenting scandal that led to the retirement of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Jan Mann was Letten's first assistant until she was outed as an online commenter at Nola.com. Her husband, Jim Mann, is also a top supervisor in the U.S. Attorney's office.
The Manns' retirements are the latest developments in the online ranting saga that began last March when a lawsuit filed by River Birch co-owner Fred Heebe alleged that Sal Perricone, another veteran assistant U.S. Attorney, was posting acerbic comments at Nola.com under the nom-de-plume HenryLMencken1951 and other aliases. Perricone admitted the allegation and resigned.
In the aftermath of the Perricone debacle, Letten told the press, the public and the courts that Perricone acted alone and that no one else in his office was commenting online. Jan Mann, as his top assistant, was already posting but stopped when Perricone was busted, according to a separate lawsuit against her by Heebe. She not only stood by silently and allowed Letten to make inaccurate pronouncements about the scope of the online commenting problem, but she also oversaw — by virtue of a direct assignment from Letten — what turns out to be a bogus "investigation" of alleged leaks and online comments by Justice Department personnel in the local office. No evidence has surfaced to date that Letten knew about Jan Mann's online comments.
When Jan Mann was outed by Heebe's latest lawsuit as the author of online comments by "eweman," she at first refused to comment, then admitted that she did post comments (but not that she was "eweman) — and then refused to resign, despite pressure from all directions on Letten to let her go. Letten instead demoted her (she has federal civil service protection, so firing her could have been problematic).
Jim Mann is also a close pal of Perricone and is widely suspected of at least knowing about his wife's online activity. The Manns and Perricone constituted a troika of tough-talking federales who seemed to enjoy not only putting crooks in jail but also engaging in a large dose of hubris in the process. Attorneys generally are barred by ethical rules from commenting on pending cases, and federal prosecutors are specifically barred by DOJ regulations from that sort of thing.
The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility has been charged with investigating the online ranting scandal. A new interim U.S. Attorney has been appointed (Dana Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia), and another federal prosecutor (John Horn from the Northern District of Georgia) has been brought in to re-open Jan Mann's tainted "investigation" into possible leaks from the office.
The Manns' retirements potentially signal the beginning of a long period of "righting the ship" by Boente and his successor.