Arizona's U.S. Attorney Diane Humetewa says she was never pressured by the Bush administration to drop an investigation of Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, as was rumored shortly after the president nominated her for her post.
In fact, the state's top federal prosecutor went even further in her first public statement on the issue, saying the rumor, as first outlined last year in a widely distributed letter by the state Democratic Party, was "very harsh" and totally unjustified.
"You characterized the letter as asking whether or not this (pressure) had occurred," Humetewa said when questioned about it. "I think it was a little bit stronger than that. I think it was sort of inferring that that had occurred."
In a recent interview with the Tribune, Humetewa opened up about the letter, which she received after being nominated to replace Paul Charlton, one of at least seven U.S. attorneys reportedly forced from office for not walking in lock step with the administration.
Charlton originally pursued the public corruption investigation of Renzi, and some Democrats wondered whether he was removed to head off that criminal inquiry.
Last year, the head of Arizona's Democratic Party, David Waid, sent a letter to Humetewa asking her point-blank if she had agreed to drop the investigation in exchange for her job.
An assistant U.S. attorney at the time, Humetewa never replied.
But earlier this year, after securing the presidential appointment, she indicted Renzi on nearly three dozen federal felony charges, putting any rumors to rest.
Waid later called it "encouraging" that Humetewa had followed through with the investigation.
"I thought it was a very harsh letter," Humetewa said. "I didn't feel I needed to respond to it."
Renzi has since pleaded not guilty.
In the hourlong interview at her office in downtown Phoenix, Humetewa also reflected on her first six months on the job, her path to getting there and her long relationship with Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
"I've got to say, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him," she said of the senator, who, along with Sen. Jon Kyl, recommended her to President Bush for the U.S. attorney's job.
Humetewa first met McCain during law school when she was invited to Washington, D.C., for a semester to work on the staff of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, on which he sat.
When the semester was over, she said, he invited her back to work on the staff full time after law school. "Frankly, that was - it was something that was unexpected," she said. "I immediately accepted it."
Graduating from the Arizona State University school of law in 1993, Humetewa packed up and went back to Washington, where she served under McCain for two and a half more years. The experience put her on the forefront of many important issues and introduced her to people who would later become mentors and friends, she said.
"It becomes a family of sorts," she said. "So it doesn't matter if you're gone from the staff three years, five years or 10 years, you're going to run into the staff and you have that sort of common bond."
About McCain, she added: "I can go without seeing him for many, many months and then, if we happen to be at an event or you happen to see him somewhere, it's like you haven't missed a day."
Talking about personal matters, Humetewa was nervous at times. She hesitated to talk in-depth about herself or her views on current events.
What do you think of Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee? "I don't want to answer that. I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I don't have to answer it, quite frankly."
But about criminal justice issues and the work of the U.S. attorney's office, Humetewa was confident.
She said Arizona has become the pipeline for roughly 50 percent of all drug and human trafficking coming up from Mexico. Prosecutors are swamped with cases dealing with border-related crime, some of which makes its way to the Valley.
"There's just a lot of signs that this isn't slowing down," Humetewa said.
Some prosecutors in her office are even dealing with as many as 200 border-related cases at a time, she said. "The numbers are staggering," she said.
Even with the recent hiring of 21 new prosecutors to focus on such issues alone, she said the federal government still has a long way to go.
Humetewa may only have a short time in office to focus on such matters, though. Whoever is elected president in November will get the choice of deciding whether he wants to replace the U.S. attorneys nationwide.
That thought doesn't worry Humetewa too much, though.
"The only impact it has is I have to go vote, like everybody else. Beyond that, I don't think too much about what's going to happen after the first of the year," Humetewa said. "I think I've got too many other things on my mind to think about what's going to happen after January."