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WASHINGTON - Sen. Orrin Hatch says officials at the Justice Department or White House - he calls them "snuffies" - tried to push former U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner out of office several years ago, believing he was a "Clinton guy."

But, Hatch said in an interview, "I wasn't going to let that happen."

In a January 2005 e-mail, D. Kyle Sampson, a Utah native and then a top Justice Department official, wrote that he and Alberto Gonzales, then the nominee to be attorney general, supported replacing 15 percent to 20 percent of the 93 U.S. attorneys across the country.

Sampson warned there could be resistance.

"I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of U.S. Attorneys they recommend (see Senator Hatch and the Utah U.S. Attorney)," Sampson wrote.

Hatch confirmed there was a move to push Warner out, but he said Warner was one of the best prosecutors Utah had seen and made clear his objection to such a change.

"That was a case of someone wanting to move Paul Warner out. I wasn't going to let that happen," Hatch said. "I think it was the White House, because he was appointed by Clinton."

It was Clinton who first nominated Warner for the post in 1998, but Hatch said Warner was his pick for the position.

"Snuffies at the Justice Department . . . took the position that now it's the time to change U.S. attorneys, and Paul was apparently thought of as a Clinton guy," Hatch said. The term "snuffies" is a label for department bureaucrats, he says.

Hatch would not say whether he believed Sampson had a hand in the decision.

"I certainly was unaware of any of that going on at the time," Warner said last week. "I never received any pressure at all from the department, officials at the department, the attorney general, anybody to leave or suggest that I should go."

Warner said Sampson made clear that he was interested in the U.S. attorney job in Utah, and told him so on one occasion, but he said many people wanted the job and he didn't know of anything that Sampson did to "affirmatively" remove Warner.

The prosecutor eventually announced his resignation as U.S. attorney in January 2006. It was well-known at the time that he was likely going to be nominated as a federal magistrate, which he later was.

Sampson, who had made no secret that he wanted the job for some time, lined up support from Gonzales and others, but Hatch threw his support behind Brett Tolman, an assistant U.S. attorney in Utah who had been working for the Senate Judiciary Committee on terrorism and Patriot Act issues.

There was a lengthy standoff, but the White House eventually nominated Tolman.

"Under other circumstances, Kyle could have been appointed," Hatch said, but he opted for the pick who had more prosecutorial experience.

In more than 3,000 pages of documents that were turned over to Congress by the Justice Department, it is unclear how extensive the effort was to replace Warner, but there is some circumstantial evidence to indicate that he may have been on Sampson's list of attorneys whom the Bush administration should consider replacing.

A January list Sampson sent to White House Counsel Harriet Miers of prosecutors that the administration should consider replacing had three names whited out when it was released by the Justice Department.

In a subsequent e-mail in April, Sampson said that two of those on that list had already resigned. A search of a news database shows that three U.S. attorneys resigned in that time period: Todd Graves in Missouri, Thomas Heffelfinger in Minnesota, and Warner.

The connection was first noted by the blog Minnesota Campaign Report.

Paul Warner

* Age: 57

* Education: Bachelor's degree in English, 1973; law degree, 1976; master's degree in public administration in 1984, all from BYU.

* Military: Served as a trial lawyer in the Navy's Judge Advocate General Corps.

* Career: Stints as a defense attorney and a prosecutor with the Utah Attorney General's Office. Worked 17 years as a federal prosecutor, the last 7 1/2 years as the U.S. attorney for Utah. Sworn in as federal magistrate in February 2006.

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