September 30, 2008 in Nation/World

Justice report blasts Gonzales, top deputy

Department to continue probe into firings of U.S. attorneys
By Richard B. Schmitt Los Angeles Times
 
FILE Associated Press photo

Career prosecutor Nora Dannehy was chosen to pursue the investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – As U.S. attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales and his top deputy, Paul J. McNulty, “abdicated their responsibility” in the 2006 dismissals of nine federal prosecutors, were aloof and uninformed about the process, and offered the public reasons for the firings that were “inconsistent, misleading and or inaccurate,” Justice Department investigators concluded Monday.

Authors of the long-awaited report, prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, were unable to determine conclusively whether crimes were committed as part of the politically charged firings, however, and they called for further investigation, particularly into the role of the White House.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, responding to that request, named Nora R. Dannehy, a career prosecutor with a record of investigating corruption cases, to continue the probe. “The report describes a disappointing chapter in the history of the department,” Mukasey said, adding that Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut, would “pursue this wherever the facts and the law require.”

The 392-page report, while detailing the circumstances surrounding the unprecedented mid-term firing of the nine U.S. attorneys, still leaves unresolved basic questions – such as who ordered the dismissals and why. At the same time, the report found “substantial evidence that partisan political considerations played a role in the removal of several of the U.S. attorneys.”

Expressing frustration that they were operating with incomplete information, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Office of Professional Responsibility, laid much of the blame at the doorstep of the White House, which refused to provide internal documents about the firings. Several former officials – including Karl Rove, President Bush’s longtime political adviser, and Harriet E. Miers, White House counsel when the firings occurred – also declined to be interviewed.

“We believe our investigation was able to uncover most of the facts relating to the reasons for the removal of most of the U.S. attorneys,” Fine and Jarrett said. “However … there are gaps in our investigation because of the refusal of certain key witnesses to be interviewed by us.”

The report describes Gonzales – who once dismissed the controversy in a newspaper op-ed as an “overblown personnel matter” – as “remarkably unengaged.”

Gonzales claimed “an extraordinary lack of recollection about the entire removal process,” the report found – unable, for example, to recall any details of a November 2006 meeting in his office where the list of prosecutors to be removed was finalized. McNulty, who as the department’s second-ranking official supervised all of the U.S. attorneys, failed to challenge the methodology used for identifying those to be fired after he learned about the plan, the report concluded.

The report scored the Justice Department for following an ad hoc process in deciding which prosecutors were to be removed and offering after-the-fact explanations that were often contrived.

Some of the harshest language concerned Gonzales’ former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, who oversaw the firings. The report said he had engaged in “misconduct” by making misleading statements to Congress and investigators, who questioned the credibility of his claims that he could not recall why certain attorneys were added to the list.

The “most troubling” case, the report said, involved the former U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, N.M., David Iglesias, whose dismissal was originally linked by department officials to concerns over his management style. The report found the “real reason” was one that emerged in congressional hearings last year – that GOP members of the New Mexico congressional delegation, including Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domeneci, had complained to Gonzales and Rove about Iglesias’ alleged failure to pursue voter fraud and public corruption cases before the November 2006 election. The report said Domeneci declined to be interviewed by investigators.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email