By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
A prosecutor who is investigating the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys has been meeting with defense lawyers, dispatching subpoenas and seeking information about the events, according to legal sources familiar with the case.
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy two months ago, after the department's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility reported that they had hit a roadblock in their lengthy probe into whether political interference prompted the dismissals. Internal investigators said they had been stymied by the refusal of key witnesses, including former presidential adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers, to cooperate.
By naming a federal prosecutor to determine whether crimes have been committed, the attorney general ensured that authorities would have the power to compel testimony and documents. Dannehy, a longtime assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut, in recent weeks has met with lawyers and government officials involved in the case. A grand jury in the District has issued subpoenas, the sources said.
The requests for documents could provoke another legal skirmish in a fight over the scope of executive power wielded by the Bush administration. In past cases, White House lawyers have asserted executive privilege in refusing to make available witnesses and information to Congress and interest groups. A lawsuit filed by the House, which also is demanding information about the prosecutor firings, is under consideration by an appeals court.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment yesterday, as did Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, where Dannehy is based.
The firings of the U.S. attorneys two years ago touched off allegations that lawmakers and White House aides had engineered the dismissals for improper political reasons. Ultimately, more than a dozen senior Justice Department officials, including then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, resigned.
D. Kyle Sampson, who served as the chief of staff to Gonzales until his March 2007 resignation, recently took a leave from his job as a partner at the law firm Hunton & Williams while the investigation proceeds. A spokeswoman for the law firm said he is on leave "pending admission to the D.C. bar."
The report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine singled out Sampson for offering testimony that was "not credible" and "unpersuasive." The authorities also concluded that Sampson had committed "misconduct."
An attorney for Sampson previously said that Sampson had gone out of his way to help investigators and that he had offered "his best, most honest and complete recollection of these events."
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has agreed to cover the legal expenses of Gonzales, who is among several former officials fighting a civil lawsuit in the District accusing him of violating privacy rights and other claims in the weeding out of candidates for the department's elite honors program.
George J. Terwilliger III, an attorney for Gonzales, said that his client had engaged in no wrongdoing, "making it patently unfair and unwarranted to prolong an investigation that has no substantive justification. By the department's own standards, this matter should be closed now as to Judge Gonzales."