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Just about the entire San Francisco federal bar figured U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan would be on his way out this year. They just didn’t bank on his departure being part of an apparent Bush administration purge of U.S. attorneys. Rumors of Ryan’s departure have gained steam over the past year, as his first four-year term neared its end last July � and since two Department of Justice audits knocked his management style and cited the office’s flagging morale. Then there was the fact that in recent weeks, law firms have been receiving resumes from Ryan and his top deputy, Eumi Choi, according to several sources. But in a surprising twist, it appeared that Ryan may have been swept up in what some are calling a Bush administration housecleaning of several U.S. attorneys � and not a victim of the audits performed last spring by the Department of Justice’s Evaluation and Review Staff. Ryan spokesman Luke Macaulay had no comment on whether Ryan was leaving in connection with the audits. But Macaulay acknowledged that the decision was not Ryan’s alone. “Like all U.S. attorneys, Kevin has always served at the pleasure of the president,” Macaulay said. “It’s a mutually agreeable departure.” Ryan sent an e-mail announcing his departure to attorneys in his San Francisco office. “As my oldest son prepares to enter college this fall, I have been contemplating the next step in my career,” he wrote. “After much thought, my family and I have decided that it is a good time for me to move on.” As of Tuesday, it wasn’t clear what Ryan’s next move would be, or who would be replacing him. One person with a large law firm said Ryan and Choi have been looking for jobs � and sending their resumes out in tandem � for at least a few weeks. “They’re not necessarily going together,” the law firm source said. “He was being shopped around, and his resume has been sent out.” Since taking office in 2002, Ryan has embarked on several large and controversial undertakings. These include focusing his organized-crime unit on street gangs � cases that have resulted in four ongoing capital cases � and the seemingly endless investigation of steroid use in Major League Baseball. The BALCO steroids probe has encompassed several well-known ballplayers and resulted in prosecutions of steroid suppliers and coaches. More recently, Ryan’s office indicted the first case to come out of the nationwide stock option backdating investigations, as well as several large environmental cases. Ryan’s exit was first reported Tuesday in a Wall Street Journal story about an apparent purge of U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration. The story followed complaints last week from three Democratic senators over a rumored push to fire a handful of top federal prosecutors. “It has come to our attention that the Bush Administration is pushing out U.S. attorneys from across the country under the cloak of secrecy and then appointing indefinite replacements without Senate confirmation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a press statement last week. She reiterated that sentiment on the Senate floor Tuesday, adding that somewhere between five and 10 U.S. attorneys are being forced out. San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam also resigned this week, and on Tuesday, a spokesman for Republican Rep. Darrell Issa told a San Diego paper that Lam had been asked to step down. Who’s next? The Journal story took many in Ryan’s office by surprise, and it wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that the U.S. attorney sent the e-mail announcing his departure. Ryan’s message didn’t surprise many in the local legal community, especially since Alice Fisher, the Department of Justice’s criminal division chief, began looking into potential replacements for Ryan last summer. Several people familiar with the communications said that Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Leslie Caldwell and Shearman & Sterling partner Patrick Robbins � both registered Republicans and former San Francisco assistant U.S. attorneys � were called, though the inquiries were described as “preliminary.” Those calls were not followed with formal interviews, and Justice Department sources say it seems unlikely that Caldwell and Robbins � both of whom are better known for their legal experience rather than political connections � are serious candidates to replace Ryan. Who those candidates might be remains unclear. “I haven’t been asked,” said Joseph Russoniello, a former San Francisco U.S. attorney, active Republican and of counsel at Cooley Godward Kronish. But he said a string of departures isn’t unprecedented. “There were a number of U.S. attorneys in my time who were asked to step down for one reason or another,” he said. “We served at the pleasure of the president.” That statement was reiterated in a Tuesday letter sent by Richard Hertling, the acting assistant attorney general, to Feinstein and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. U.S. attorneys, he wrote, “may be removed for any reason or no reason.” That statement is unlikely to placate Feinstein, who pointed out that the Arkansas U.S. attorney was recently asked to resign, and replaced by a 37-year-old Bush administration lawyer. “We know that this is not an isolated occurrence, but we don’t know how many U.S. attorneys have been asked to resign,” Feinstein told the Senate.

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