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Hullabaloo


Monday, September 29, 2008

 
Investigation And Prosecution Left On The Table Post-Bush

by dday

Obviously the bailout bill is the order of the day (and I hear enough Congresscritters saying they "have to do something" and "we are all Murcans" that the ship has pretty much sailed) but there's another very interesting report out today, a long-awaited Justice Department Inspector General summary of the US Attorney firings.

In 2007 (before my time here) I was fairly obsessed with these prosecutor purges, and it became clear that the affected US Attorneys were singled out for nakedly political reasons and in most cases for failing to indict Democrats or insert themselves into the electoral process. The actions of the prosecutors who remained made the actions taken to fire those who failed to comply more pronounced. The ugly underbelly of Karl Rove politics was really ripped open for all to see, and no amount of denials would change that.

The report is about as thorough as it can be, given that key Republicans in the Justice Department, as well as elected officials caught up in the probe like New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, simply stonewalled the investigation. This is particularly the case in the firing of New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias.

The report concludes that Iglesias was removed as a result of complaints brought to DOJ by New Mexico GOP members of Congress and party activists, and shows that Karl Rove knew in advance of the decision. It reveals that at a meeting on November 15, 2006, Rep. Heather Wilson told Rove: "Mr. Rove, for what it's worth, the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico is a waste of breath." Rove's response: ""That decision has already been made. He's gone."

But it states that IG investigators were unable to determine how Rove knew this (Iglesias wasn't notifed until December 7), and what his possible role in the decision was, because Rove and White House counsel Harriet Miers refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Similarly, it notes that Kyle Sampson, who as chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales took the lead in bringing about the firings, gave "misleading after-the-fact explanations for why Iglesias was placed on the list." The report concludes: "[W]e question whether Sampson provided us the full story about Iglesias's placement on the list, as well as the reasons for other U.S. Attorney removals."

And: "Our investigation was also hindered by the refusal of Senator Domenici and his Chief of Staff to agree to an interview by us." (In April, Domenici, who is retiring this year, received a "qualified admonition" from the Senate ethics committee for his role in the firing.)


The report is a monster, but it can be boiled down to "the DoJ broke the law in spirit and probably in letter, but they won't give us enough information to figure out precisely how they broke the law, so... somebody else should figure that out." While it certainly appears that Fredo Gonzales and some of his top deputies perjured themselves before Congress, the report does not recommend criminal charges (it merely says that Fredo et al "failed to provide accurate and truthful statements about the removals and their role in the process,” which is... something different entirely?). However, it does clearly state that Gonzales and his lead deputy Paul McNulty turned a blind eye to the firings, essentially outsourcing personnel decisions to the White House political office, and that Kyle Sampson was largely responsible for the haphazard process both during and after the firings. And it asks for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate this further. And wouldn't you know it, Michael Mukasey went along with it:

WASHINGTON β€” Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed a special prosecutor on Monday to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other officials in connection with the firings of nine of United States attorneys in 2006.

β€œThe report makes plain that, at a minimum, the process by which nine U.S. attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional, and the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking,” Mr. Mukasey said in a statement. The report called for further investigation to determine whether prosecutable offenses were committed either in the firings or in subsequent testimony about them.

Nora Dannehy, acting United States Attorney in Connecticut, will lead the investigation, Mr. Mukasey said. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has served as a prosecutor for 17 years and specializes in white-collar and public corruption cases. She led the prosecution of the former governor of Connecticut, John Rowland, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to accepting $107,000 in gifts.Mr. Gonzales, who resigned last year after coming under criticism because of the firings, has been the main focus of interest, in part because several members of Congress charged that he may have perjured himself in his testimony through his memory lapses and misstatements about the firings.


Here's Mukasey's statement. I was a little surprised that he went ahead and did this. Sure, appointing a prosecutor inside the DoJ affords a little more control than an independent counsel, but Mukasey's team will be gone soon enough, and so this investigation certainly will carry over into the next Presidency. Which is as it should be. There is no way that these charlatans should be able to manage oversight over themselves.

The question, obviously, is how far the next President would be willing to go. And not just with the US Attorney purges, but a host of other topics (Murray Waas had additional information late last week about Fredo's trip to the hospital to bully John Ashcroft into signing off on the illegal wiretapping program - looks like Bush personally directed it). The mechanisms are now in place, at least in this case, to continue serious investigations into White House crimes without meddling or stonewalling from Bush and his cronies. That's an opprtunity we can't afford to pass up.


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