Monday, September 29, 2008
An internal Justice Department investigation concluded Monday that political pressure drove the firings of several federal prosecutors in a 2006 purge, but said that the refusal of major players at the White House and the department to cooperate in the year-long inquiry produced significant “gaps” in its understanding of the events.
At the urging of the investigators, who said they did not have enough evidence to justify recommending criminal charges in the case, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed the Acting United States Attorney in Connecticut, Nora Dannehy, to continue the inquiry and determine whether anyone should be prosecuted.
The 356-page report, prepared by the department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility, provides the fullest picture to date of an episode that opened the Bush administration up to charges of politicizing the justice system. The firings of nine federal prosecutors, and the Congressional hearings they generated, ultimately led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last September.
The investigation, which uncovered White House e-mail messages not previously made public, offered a blistering critique of Mr. Gonzales’s management of the department. It called Mr. Gonzales “remarkably unengaged” in overseeing an unprecedented personnel review, and said that he “abdicated” his administrative responsibilities, leaving those duties to his chief of staff. It said that the process for deciding which prosecutors were fired was “fundamentally flawed.”
More troubling, the investigation concluded that, despite the denials of the administration at the time of the controversy, political considerations played a part in the firings of at least four of the nine prosecutors.
The most serious case, the report said, was the firing of David Iglesias, the former United States Attorney for New Mexico, who had tangled with two of his state’s leading Republican lawmakers, Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather A. Wilson, over what they saw as his slow response to voter fraud and political corruption accusations against Democrats in New Mexico.
“We concluded,” the inquiry said, “that complaints from New Mexico Republican politicians and party activists to the White House and the Department about Iglesias’s handling of voter fraud and public corruption cases led to his removal.”
But in looking into the Iglesias firing and others, investigators were hampered by the refusal of the White House to turn over internal documents and to make some major figures available for interviews. Investigators interviewed some 90 people, but three administration officials who played a part in crucial phases of the firing plan — Karl Rove, the former political advisor to President Bush; Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel; and Monica M. Goodling, former Justice Department liaison to the White House — all refused to be interviewed.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]