Justice Department Inquiry Ties Prosecutor Firings to Politics
An internal Justice Department investigation concluded on Monday that political pressure drove the dismissals of at least three federal prosecutors in a controversial 2006 purge, but the White House’s refusal to cooperate in the high-profile investigation produced significant “gaps” in the understanding of who was to blame.
The investigators said they did not have enough evidence to justify recommending criminal charges. But at the urging of the investigators, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, Nora Dannehy, to continue the investigation and determine if anyone should be prosecuted.
The 356-page report, prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility, provides the fullest account to date of a scandal that dogged the Bush administration for months last year over accusations that it had politicized the federal justice system by ousting prosecutors seen as disloyal.
It provided particular detail in the dismissal of David C. Iglesias, a former New Mexico prosecutor who was let go at the prodding of Republican leaders in Washington and New Mexico who were dissatisfied with his work in investigating accusations against Democrats. Despite the denials of the Bush administration, the political pressure was “the real reason” for Iglesias’ dismissal, the report said.
The investigators acknowledged, however, that they could not answer some critical questions because the White House refused to turn over internal documents and to allow interviews with some crucial figures. Investigators interviewed about 90 people in the last year and a half, but three senior administration officials who played a part in crucial phases of the dismissals — Karl Rove, the former political adviser to President Bush; Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel; and Monica M. Goodling, former Justice Department liaison to the White House — refused to be interviewed.
But at the same time, the inquiry rejected accusations that the dismissals of two other prosecutors, in San Diego and Phoenix, were designed to thwart political investigations involving Republicans.
The controversy over the dismissals of nine federal prosecutors led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales last September, and the report saves some of its harshest criticism for him. It concludes that Gonzales was “remarkably unengaged” in an unprecedented process to fire a large number of prosecutors at once, and it says that he, along with his deputy at the time, Paul J. McNulty, “abdicated their responsibility” to ensure the integrity of the process and left it mainly to Gonzales’ chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. The report also faulted Gonzales’ misstatements to Congress and the media about the true reasons for the dismissals and his “extraordinary lack of recollection about the entire removal process.”
In ordering a new investigation, Mukasey echoed the language of the investigators and acknowledged that the process for firing the prosecutors was “haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional.”