U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia has been cleared of threatening a federal firearms investigator, a finding that appears to smooth the way for her to be confirmed to a seat on Maryland's highest court.
In a letter dated yesterday, Glenn A. Fine, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Justice, informed Battaglia that an inquiry that began in the fall had yielded "insufficient evidence to conclude that you threatened to take retaliatory action against" investigators working in Maryland.
Testifying before a state Senate committee considering her nomination by Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the Maryland Court of Appeals, Battaglia said the finding vindicates her.
"It closes the investigation and exonerates me and the members of this office," Battaglia said.
Over the objection of one Republican member, the committee voted 14-1 to confirm Battaglia for the judgeship. The full Senate is expected to follow suit Friday.
Carroll County Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson voted against her nomination, pointing to concerns about Battaglia raised by agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
The dispute blew up last year after ATF agents provided statistics on federal gun-crime prosecutions in Maryland to Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who had decried the effectiveness of Battaglia's efforts.
The special agent in charge of the Baltimore ATF office asserted in a sworn statement that Battaglia threatened him with a transfer and budget cuts because she thought the numbers provided to Ehrlich underrepresented her office's efforts.
Their run-in prompted inquiries by the Justice Department and the Treasury Department, which oversees the ATF. The results of the Treasury investigation have not been made public.
Ferguson pressed Battaglia on the issue but acknowledged that he would have little luck slowing her judicial confirmation unless the ATF agents involved in the dispute offer testimony in Annapolis.
He said he had asked a top ATF official to find out whether any of the agents want to testify about Battaglia's actions.
Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, turned down Ferguson's request to delay a committee vote on Battaglia's confirmation, saying the entire Senate could take up any additional evidence about her qualifications.
Aside from Ferguson's questions, yesterday's hearing amounted to a love feast between the heavily Democratic committee and Battaglia, a longtime state and federal official who once served as chief of staff for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.
"Ms. Battaglia has done an outstanding job in Baltimore City trying to turn around a crime problem that has been embarrassing to us," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an East Baltimore Democrat.
If confirmed by the Senate, Battaglia, 54, is scheduled to step down as U.S. attorney Friday and be sworn in as a judge on the seven-member court that afternoon. Glendening nominated her to fill the seat left vacant by the retirement of Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky.
It is not clear when President Bush will name a successor for the U.S. attorney's post.
Sun staff writer Gail Gibson contributed to this article.