ATF director's confirmation blocked by GOP

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BOSTON (AP) -- For more than two years, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan has been consumed by the latest entry on his resume: acting chief of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Republican has been balancing both jobs while dealing with opposition to his ATF confirmation from members of his own party in the Senate. Now, with the presidential election a month away and Congress adjourned, Sullivan, 54, could soon end up unemployed.

"I am going to remain focused on these two positions until the time I decide or somebody else decides it's time for me to move on to something else," he told The Associated Press. "At that point in time, I will be looking for some level of employment."

With Congress in recess, there's virtually no chance Sullivan will be confirmed before the election. For now, he's overseeing an ATF staff of 5,100 with no pay except for a $3,150 per month housing stipend for his apartment in Washington. He draws his $149,000 annual salary for serving as U.S. attorney, a job he does mainly by phone, e-mail and weekly visits to the state.

None of the senators holding up Sullivan's confirmation returned calls seeking comment. They include Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, both of Idaho, and David Vitter of Louisiana. The opposition is not to Sullivan personally, but focused on the belief that the ATF is overly aggressive in enforcing gun laws.

As U.S. attorney, Sullivan has taken a hard-line stance in drug and gun cases. One judge publicly criticized him for clogging the federal system with cases that could be handled by state prosecutors. At various times, he's been talked about in state Republican circles as a possible candidate for governor, state attorney general and the U.S. Senate.

The former state legislator became U.S. attorney in 2001, a week after two planes hijacked from Boston were used in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Three months later, Sullivan led the prosecution of would-be airplane shoe bomber Richard Reid when Reid's international flight was diverted to Boston.

In August 2006, Sullivan was appointed acting director of the ATF. He was nominated by President Bush for the permanent job in March 2007.

"When you come into these positions, first off, you're tremendously honored to be asked to serve, but you understand and appreciate that you serve at the pleasure of the administration," he said, declining further speculation on his future.

Sullivan estimates that he spends 80 percent of his time on ATF business and the rest managing the U.S. attorney's office in Boston.

As ATF director, Sullivan has focused on working with local and state authorities to fight violent crime, trying to stop the flow of illegal guns from the United States to Mexico and preventing explosives attacks within the United States.

Senate Democrats criticize Republicans for holding up his confirmation. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., blamed Republican "ideologues" for stalling it.

"I think he's done a good job at ATF. I'm all for moving his nomination forward," he said. "We are going to have new appointments coming up very shortly, so I think it speaks to the inability of this administration to get its nominees through its own party."

Sullivan insists he has not felt hampered doing both jobs for so long.

"I can't say I've felt frustrated professionally or personally, but I feel a little frustrated for the bureau itself," he said. "I think it would be healthy for the organization to have a confirmed director."