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New Orleans federal prosecutor stepping down

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 6, 2012 at 2:29 p.m.

— Jim Letten, whose 11-year term as the chief federal prosecutor in New Orleans makes him the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country, announced Thursday that he was resigning, effective Tuesday.

While Letten did not specify the reasons for his resignation, it came amid a swirl of revelations that senior prosecutors in his office were offering their often piquant opinions about active cases as anonymous commenters on nola.com, the website of The Times-Picayune.

“It is essential that the challenges which we take on, and especially our current challenges which we’re going through right now, never, ever, under any circumstances threaten to divert or distract us from our sacred mission of protecting the freedoms, the property, the lives, and the quality of lives or all of our people, especially the most vulnerable,” Letten said to reporters at a morning news conference.

Letten was appointed by President George W. Bush but drew so much support as a straight-edge scourge of the corrupt that he was one of the rare federal prosecutors to remain in his post after the election of Barack Obama. Before taking the office he obtained the conviction of former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards on racketeering charges. While in office he has made public corruption a focus, successfully prosecuting judges, school board members, parish presidents and police officers.

“As the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country today, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the people of his district and the nation by working tirelessly to make their communities safer through reducing violent crime, fighting public corruption and protecting their civil rights,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.

But last spring a target of one of Letten’s investigations revealed in a lawsuit that a senior assistant U.S. attorney had been making anonymous online comments about a variety of topics, including cases the office was involved in. That prosecutor resigned and Letten said at the time that he had been acting alone. Then early last month, another lawsuit revealed that Letten’s second-in-command had also been posting comments anonymously.

The Department of Justice has been investigating the matter.

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