How Political Warfare in Missouri Led to Prosecutor's Firing

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 3, 2008

In Missouri, evidently, Republican politics are exceptionally bloody, with clans fighting like rival mobs whose carnage spreads to other locales and sweeps in innocent civilians.

This is what former U.S. attorney Todd P. Graves discovered when he was ousted in January 2006 by the Justice Department. He got his first inkling of trouble in 2004 not from the department, but from an aide to Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), whose office was then embroiled in a bitter dispute with Graves's brother, a U.S. congressman.

In a telephone call, the aide angrily warned Graves that if he did not intervene on Bond's behalf -- against his brother's chief of staff -- the senator "could no longer protect [his] job." Graves refused, and a little over a year later, he was bounced from his Kansas City office after Bond's staff made repeated complaints to the White House counsel's office.

Some new details of this warfare are spelled out in a report this week from the Justice Department's inspector general that illuminates how a coterie of relatively young department officials, working with White House lawyers and senior political officials, allowed the hiring and firing of U.S. prosecutors such as Graves to be utterly corrupted.

H.E. "Bud" Cummins and David C. Iglesias, U.S. attorneys in Arkansas and New Mexico, respectively, also were ousted partly because of political pressures, the report suggests. Key participants attempted to cover their acts by lying to members of Congress and the media, it says. A politically embarrassing uproar ensued, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales resigned under fire last August.

But the triviality of the dispute that led to Graves's ouster, described in the report as a split between Bond and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) over how to "run business" in Missouri politics, suggests that in the early part of Bush's second term the Justice Department's top officials were more interested in political gain -- or political favors -- than the neutral pursuit of justice.

"What adult acts like this?" asked Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group. "Senators are not spoiled children who can lash out on the playground . . . when they don't get their way. U.S. attorneys are not toadies for their Senate sponsors, they are federal law enforcement officials."

Bond, who refused to be questioned about the episode by investigators, emphasized in a letter to Inspector General Glenn A. Fine that he made no calls himself about Todd Graves. He issued a brief statement Tuesday apologizing to "the people of Missouri" and to Graves, saying had "no knowledge of my staff's action, did not approve it and would not have approved it."

Graves's ouster at the request of Bond's aides surprised many Missourians because he had worked on one of Bond's Senate races and had been an assistant state attorney before Bond sponsored him in 2001 for the federal prosecutor's job. A Justice Department inspection report in 2002 called him well-regarded.

But then he got caught in the crossfire between Bond's office and his brother's staff. It came to a head when the Bond aide demanded in October 2004 that Todd Graves persuade his brother to fire Jeff Roe, then his chief of staff. Although the report does not identify the caller, multiple sources told The Washington Post it was Roe's archrival, Jason Van Eaton, the chief of staff for Bond's Missouri office.

Van Eaton and Roe, a longtime Republican political operative, are roughly the same age, and each sought an influential reputation, the sources said. Their bosses worked well together, but for the two aides "it was all about personality clashes, who is the more important and powerful staffer," said a Republican who knows the two.

They became foes in 2004 partly because Roe was then assisting a Republican congressional candidate who was challenging a longtime Bond ally, former Kansas City mayor Emanuel Cleaver II, according to a source familiar with the episode. They also disagreed over which official -- Bond or Rep. Graves -- deserved principal credit for obtaining a highway construction grant for northern Missouri, and over sharing a database of voter opinions compiled by Graves's office, two other Republican sources said.

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