Mukasey Appoints Prosecutor to Probe Gonzales's Role
Monday, September 29, 2008; 3:34 PM
Investigators probing the firing of nine U.S. attorneys concluded that top Justice Department officials "abdicated their responsibility" by failing to supervise subordinates who carried out the botched plan, according to a long-awaited report released today.
At their urging, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey selected a veteran federal prosecutor to continue the inquiry, focusing on whether department officials, including former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, misled Congress after the firings came to light last year.
The investigation uncovered "significant evidence" that partisan political factors played a role in some of the 2006 dismissals. Particularly "troubling," according to the report, was the sacking of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias after several Republican elected officials complained about voter fraud and public corruption cases he pursued. That episode raises the possibility that obstruction of justice and wire fraud laws were violated.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director H. Marshall Jarrett, who had been investigating the basis for the dismissals for 18 months, also cited "inconsistent, misleading or inaccurate" statements by the department's former leaders.
In the 390-page report, issued this morning, they said Gonzales "bears primary responsibility" for the debacle and asserted that he was "remarkably disengaged" from the process, which stretched on for months. Investigators said that after the mass firings came to light, Gonzales made "misleading" public statements about his involvement, failing to recall his attendance at a critical meeting and documents that landed on his desk.
But investigators stopped short of concluding that a crime had been committed. Instead, they called for further inquiry to determine the facts underlying the removal of Iglesias and whether department officials had issued false or misleading statements to Congress and the public.
Reached by phone, Iglesias said he was cheered by the findings and said he looked forward to the results of the investigation as it proceeds.
In their strongest conclusions, the Justice Department investigators said that D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Gonzales, had committed "misconduct" by making a series of questionable public statements and failing to share information with the White House, lawmakers and his own superiors about the extent of the White House involvement in the firings.
Bradford Berenson, a lawyer for Sampson, said it was "mystifying and disappointing that the inspector general chose to impugn Mr. Sampson's candor and integrity when, virtually alone among significant participants in this matter, Mr. Sampson at all times cooperated fully and voluntarily with any and all investigators, without preconditions, and provided his best, most honest and complete recollection of these events. He has behaved with honor and dignity throughout this difficult episode and has never attempted to shirk his responsibility for problems in the U.S. attorney firings."
The internal watchdogs asked that the investigation continue under the authority of a prosecutor with the power to compel testimony and production of documents. They said their probe was thwarted in part because they could not interview key witnesses, including former White House officials Karl Rove, Harriet E. Miers and William Kelley. Investigators also pointed out that the White House refused to turn over internal documents related to the dismissal of the prosecutors by citing the "sensitivity" of the issues, saying the move had "hindered" their inquiry.
Mukasey selected Connecticut Acting U.S. Attorney Nora R. Dannehy, a federal prosecutor for 17 years, to answer the lingering questions. Dannehy will report to the department's second in command. Her investigation likely will extend for months, ensuring that the politically charged issue will extend into the next administration.
The investigators said the prosecutor should consider whether Sampson, the department official who played the greatest role in developing the dismissal list, made false statements to Congress or investigators for the inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility. They also urged the prosecutor to examine the statements of other former department leaders and to scrutinize whether federal criminal statutes were violated.