Thursday, October 4, 2007
The imbroglio over the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys in 2006 has largely receded into the background, and there does not appear to be much interest in pursuing the issue on Capitol Hill. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy sent a letter to Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey seeking his assurances that the problems arising from the firing of the U.S. Attorneys will not come to the surface again, and that he will not interfere with any contempt citation Congress might issue regarding the refusal of former White House aides Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten to testify about the firings. The letter (here) states:
The mass firings of the U.S. Attorneys appointed by this President were unprecedented. I will inquire whether you share my view that the integrity and independence of federal law enforcement should not be compromised by political operatives from the White House. I will ask for your assurance that the Department of Justice and, in particular, our U.S. Attorneys, will not be employed in upcoming elections to seek to affect the outcome. The Department of Justice should be working to protect Americans’ right to vote and have their vote count, not seeking to swing close elections into a partisan column by leaking allegations of corruption or bringing last minute legal actions alleging voter fraud. * * *
Under applicable statutes and practices, contempt citations against Administration officials by the House and Senate would be certified to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring before a grand jury for its action. If the House or Senate certified a contempt citation against current or former White House officials arising from the U.S. Attorney investigation, would you permit the U.S. Attorney to carry out the law and refer the matter to a grand jury as required by 2 U.S.C. § 194? If the White House sought to prevent the U.S. Attorney from bringing contempt charges to a grand jury as required by law, would you take any action to prevent the U.S. Attorney from doing so?
More generally, what would you do as Attorney General if you learned that a White House official had called a U.S. Attorney asking for information about an on-going criminal investigation? What would you do as Attorney General if you learned that a Member of Congress had called a U.S. Attorney asking for information about an on-going criminal investigation?
The issue raised in the last question might be better addressed to Representatives and Senators rather than putting the onus on the Department of Justice to resist such inquiries. Whether Judge Mukasey will give anything close to an acceptable response remains to be seen, but it's unlikely he will address hypotheticals beyond asserting that he will "call them like I see them" and act in the best interests of the citizenry. Senator Leahy takes a somewhat conciliatory tone at the end the letter, bemoaning the White House's alleged failure to cooperate with the Committee that has "left you to answer the unanswered questions and left longstanding disputes unresolved." (ph)