Obama Squeezes Out First Female Native American U.S. Attorney; Diane Humetewa Submits Resignation

Arizona's U.S. Attorney, Diane Humetewa, the nation's first-ever Native American woman to become a U.S. Attorney in any state, will resign on August 2.

Sandy Raynor, spokeswoman for the office, says Humetewa plans on spending some time with her family before figuring out her next career move.

As far as we know, Humetewa hasn't screwed up -- it's just politics. She was appointed by President George W. Bush. As the White House announced a few weeks ago, former Janet Napolitano chief of staff Dennis Burke has been nominated by President Obama to be the U.S. Attorney in Arizona.

Melissa Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice in Washington D.C., explains, "the appointment of a new U.S. Attorney as a political appointee is part of the political process."

U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the sitting president, and President Obama is likely to replace the U.S. Attorneys in all 94 districts with his own choices, she says, adding that former President Clinton did just that.

So far, 13 new U.S. Attorneys have been nominated by Obama, Schwartz says. However, Burke isn't likely to be confirmed by the Senate by August 2, so the U.S. Attorney General's office will pick an interim boss for the Arizona office.

With Democrats in the catbird seat, we don't expect as much controversy as the firing of Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, but this anti-diversity move will probably earn Obama some flak. For sure, the Dems howled over the firing Charlton and seven other U.S. Attorneys, saying then that politics shouldn't have played a role in the switch-up. The Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Democrat Patrick Leahy, held hearings on the issue.

Full text of U.S. Attorney's office release about Humetewa follows:


PHOENIX - U.S. Attorney Diane J. Humetewa announced today that she will resign from her position as United States Attorney for the District of Arizona effective August 2, 2009. Ms. Humetewa was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as U.S. Attorney on December 17, 2007. The District of Arizona is comprised of the entire state of Arizona, and includes 15 counties, 22 Indian nations and the fifth largest metropolitan city in the nation. The office currently has over 300 employees, having grown by 20 percent during Ms. Humetewa's tenure.

"It has been a great privilege to serve the citizens of Arizona in this office," stated U.S. Attorney Humetewa. "I am grateful to the entire U.S. Attorney staff for their daily commitment in the pursuit of justice for our citizens, and I am also grateful to all our federal, tribal, state, and local law enforcement partners whose hard work is indispensable in that pursuit. I also thank the Arizona Congressional delegation, the Arizona federal court judges, the United States Attorney General, and the President for the opportunity to serve the nation."

Arizona officials praised Ms. Humetewa's tenure as U.S. Attorney, during which she led the office in a high profile public integrity prosecution, oversaw the expansion of the District office to address southwest border security challenges, provided victim advocacy services to crime victims, and advanced unprecedented collaboration with Arizona's tribal nations. She has served as a key advisor to the Justice Department leadership in both administrations on border crimes, federal victim rights and Indian Country issues.

"Diane Humetewa has been a groundbreaking United States Attorney for Arizona," stated U.S. Senator Jon Kyl. "She is the first Native American woman and, as far as I know, the first victim advocate, to serve our nation in this important office. During her tenure she has been a well respected prosecutor handling difficult cases from violent crime to serious antiquities thefts. Diane leaves office with the respect of all law enforcement and the thanks of the nation she served."

One of her first acts was to announce the indictment of then-Congressman Richard Renzi on 33 counts of embezzlement and the misuse of his public office for financial gain. The prosecution is ongoing. Last month, Ms. Humetewa's office announced the indictment of two Illinois brothers on charges they conspired in the February 2004 package bombing that injured two people at the Scottsdale Office of Diversity and Dialogue. Ms. Humetewa also collaborated with the FBI to prosecute a number of serial bank robbers who were responsible for a rash of bank robberies throughout the Valley earlier this year.

"United States Attorney Diane Humetewa has vigorously supported FBI Phoenix Division's investigations during her tenure and has been a strong proponent of victim's rights in matters such as Crimes against Children, Mortgage Fraud, and Indian Country Crimes. U.S. Attorney Humetewa's strengths have been her relentless pursuit of justice and compassion for crime victims," stated Special Agent in Charge Nathan Gray, FBI Phoenix Division.

"United States Attorney Humetewa has worked tirelessly to make Arizona and the United States a safer place," stated Matthew Allen, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona. "She has been a strong partner with law enforcement agencies from all levels of government, including federal, state, local and tribal governments. Her support of the Department of Homeland Security law enforcement agencies, in particular U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been a key part of our ability to make the border more secure and our citizens safer. Diane has also been a strong advocate for victims and victim's rights and has worked to bring more prosecutorial resources to this District so that we can bring more significant cases against the criminal organizations that we target."

Challenges along the southwest border include drug cartels and other smuggling organizations that have become increasingly violent and ruthless in Arizona. She took office when the demands to do more with fewer human resources were frequent. To meet this challenge, the Justice Department funded the expansion of the office in the District of Arizona, adding 20 attorneys and 40 support staff to meet prosecution demands. Under Ms. Humetewa's leadership, border crime prosecutions increased in 2009 by over 70% in Tucson and over 50% in Phoenix from the previous year.

Beth Kempshall, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration in Arizona, commented that, "As United States Attorney, Diane Humetewa was confronted with unprecedented challenges from the Mexican Cartels as they attempted to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States. The leadership and commitment that Diane demonstrated strengthened the efforts of law enforcement against these ruthless criminal enterprises. Ms. Humetewa dedicated herself to making Arizona a safer place for all of us."

Early in her tenure, Ms. Humetewa established a firearms unit to focus on federal gun laws that penalize career criminals, criminal aliens and firearms traffickers. The firearms unit was recently touted by Justice Department officials as a model for firearms trafficking prosecutions. Every day she has fostered cooperative law enforcement efforts with federal, state, local and tribal partners to fight the violent trade in people, drugs and guns.

Bill Newell, Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, stated that , "It has been an honor and a pleasure to work alongside Diane during her tenure as Arizona's U.S. Attorney. I have witnessed her be a tireless advocate for victim's rights in pursuit of the Department of Justice's primary mission to serve and protect the citizens of this great nation. Similarly her dedication to the Native American community has been second to none and the Arizona ATF office will honor her service to these communities by continuing to serve them to our fullest ability."

As the U.S. Justice Department's lead interlocutor with Arizona's tribal nations and a nationally recognized expert in Indian Country criminal justice issues, Ms. Humetewa took bold steps to enhance collaboration with Arizona tribes. In cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, her office conducted training to enable over 200 tribal police officers to receive

special certification to enforce federal laws on Indian lands. Recognizing the connection between substance abuse and violent crime, Ms. Humetewa formed partnerships with federal, state and tribal agencies, resulting in dozens of prosecutions of methamphetamine traffickers and bootleggers in Indian Country, a main contributing factor to violent crimes. A public awareness campaign, now in demand nationwide, encouraged greater Indian tribal community involvement to combat gangs and drugs.

"Diana Humetewa's tenure as Arizona's U.S. Attorney will be considered a milestone as she has applied her high level of legal knowledge, experienced professional skills and dedication to the complex justice system of our times," stated John Lewis, Executive Director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona. "The American Indian community proudly commends her work as a U.S. Attorney that has furthered the cause of justice for all people and improved a better understanding of justice issues in Indian Country."

Sheila Morago, Director of the Arizona Indian Tribal Gaming Association, added that, "Diane was the spearhead for the creation of an MOU for funding of an Assistant United States Attorney that handles nothing but Indian Gaming crimes in Arizona. This unique position is funded by the Arizona Department of Gaming through the funds from Arizona's Indian Gaming facilities and is the only position of its kind in the country. The agreement from the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Arizona Department of Gaming and the Arizona Tribes would not have been possible if it weren't for Diane's knowledge of all three entities. This agreement is a testament to the trust that the tribes have in her."

Additionally, in June 2009, Ms. Humetewa was awarded the Women in Federal Law Enforcement's (WIFLE) highest honorary award, the President's Award, in recognition for the outstanding achievements during her career as a prosecutor, a crime victims' advocate and for her dedication to the training of law enforcement to enhance their response to crimes on the tribal lands.

RELEASE NUMBER: 2009-240(USA Humetewa)

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.