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Documents Detail Role of Rove, Miers in Firing of U.S. Attorney

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Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 12, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Carrie Johnson took your questions about newly released documents that expand on the role Bush administration officials Karl Rove and Harriet Miers played in the dismissal of a U.S. attorney.

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Carrie Johnson: Good morning. Thanks so much for joining me today to talk about the congressional and criminal investigations of the prosecutor firings back in 2006. Seems like a long time ago, but new disclosures continue to emerge. Fire away with questions and comments.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Carrie -- Thanks for taking questions today. This is an interesting and important story, but I'm wondering if we are so immersed in other issues (the economy, health care, etc.) that no one cares too much about it anymore. Rove was involved in pretty much everything during his time at the White House -- no big surprise there. What, if anything, happens now, given that Obama seems to be signaling more and more that he's not interested in delving into the misdeeds of the previous administration? What are the options for prosecution and trying to hold Rove, Miers, et al accountable?

Carrie Johnson: Thanks St. Paul. I agree that there is a general desire to move on, especially among Republicans and centrist Democrats, but the more left leaning/progressive elements of the political spectrum continue to be angry about how the Bush White House may have interfered with Justice Department operations. That's what is helping to fuel this effort by the House Judiciary Committee and why stories about Karl Rove and Harriet Miers continue to attract national attention.

A lot of people involved in this case yesterday and last month, when the Post broke fresh ground on the WH role, sought to characterize the issues as "old news." But they're old in part because the WH stalled in turning over more than 5,000 pages of materials on this episode until March 2009. So in some ways that tactic worked politically.

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Dallas: Hi Carrie,

Will this be another example of no buck stops here, where those in authority are least accountable, and subordinates most accountable? Perhaps the worst example in our history for accountability or admitting mistakes was the Bush/Cheney administration.

Carrie Johnson: Well, a criminal prosecutor, Nora Dannehy of Connecticut, continues to investigate whether any laws were broken in connection with the prosecutor firings and the statements under oath that followed.

Yesterday lawyers for Scott Jennings, a Rove deputy at the White House, and Steve Bell, the former chief of staff to Sen. Pete Domenici who figured in a great deal of the New Mexico emails, asserted to me that they are witnesses in the criminal investigation, not subjects or targets of Dannehy.

I'm told that the prosecutor is continuing to interview relevant parties but no decision is imminent on possible charges. The people who could be in the most jeopardy are those who made statements to Congress in the aftermath of the firings -- Rove and Miers delayed their testimony until this year, and thus may face fewer legal issues as a result.

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Wheaton, Md.: I have a dream -- of seeing Karl Rove frog marched out of his luxurious house in leg irons. Please tell me all my dreams will come true.

Carrie Johnson: Wheaton, based on my reporting, I doubt very much that is going to happen. Rove's lawyer, Bob Luskin, has signaled that Rove testified truthfully to the House and that he has fully cooperated with the criminal prosecutor as well.

Rove was careful in an interview with me last month, and in a statement he issued yesterday, to assert that he never meddled with any prosecution during his time in the government and he distanced himself anew from the prosecutor firings. Characteristically, perhaps, he also took a swipe at Democrats for allegedly peddling false statements and "innuendoes" about him. Not the posture of a guy who feels he's on the firing line.

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Florida: Don't US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president? Kind of like the people in, for example, the White House travel office?

Carrie Johnson: Yes, US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and can be fired for an assortment of legitimate reasons. The question that started the ball rolling in late 2006/early 2007 was whether any of the 9 prosecutors were fired for improper *illegitimate* reasons such as their refusal to bring cases against Democrats or their desire to pursue influential Republicans.

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New York: Thanks for the chat, Carrie. Did Iglesias' replacement pursue the investigations against Democrats that his critics wanted? Were there any charges brought?

Carrie Johnson: Sure thing - Iglesias's office went on to retry one of the key figures of interest to the New Mexico GOP and won a conviction in that criminal case. To my knowledge nothing public has emerged that would advance an FBI investigation of Patricia Madrid, a Democrat who was Rep. Heather Wilson's opponent in a tight 2006 reelection bid. Also worth noting that Iglesias's replacement, after back and forth between the Bush White House and then Sen. Domenici and various GOP state pols in New Mexico, turned out to be on an interim basis a career guy, not a political appointee.

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Washington, DC: How does all of this relate to attacks on voter registration drives? Are they mentioned in these new documents?

Carrie Johnson: Karl Rove told the House Judiciary that voter fraud was one of his foremost concerns and that he had heard complaints in his travels across the US about lax enforcement of the laws...where people registered as Donald Duck would vote, for instance. He characterized this in the transcript as a "central" challenge to our "democracy." But House Democrats have always fretted that voter fraud enforcement was a pretext to get rid of US Attorneys who were not pursuing the kind of public corruption cases that could help the GOP.

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Milwaukee, WI: Based on the testimony and documents, what do you make of Karl Rove's role in, first, getting then-U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic on the list of to-be-fired USAs and, then, having him removed? Was that all Rove's doing, or who was responsible? Thanks.

Carrie Johnson: Rove said in the interview with the House that he had developed a good impression of Biskupic and that the US Atty had worked closely with Milwaukee police and other authorities to devote time and attention to voting fraud in that state. He did not attack Biskupic in his testimony nor in an interview with me last month. House Democrats led by Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) had tried to argue that Biskupic pursued a case against a Democrat, Georgia Thompson, for bad political motives but there was no solid documentary evidence to support those allegations that have been kicking around on the Dem side for a while now.

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Pittsburgh: Re Rove, Miers, et al.: Is there any crime of which they could potentially be accused for which they can actually be prosecuted? Or, since they no longer hold their White House positions, are they free and clear of everything except public disapproval?

Carrie Johnson: Rove and Miers potentially could face jeopardy if they lied in their House Judiciary testimony or to investigators working for Assistant U.S. Attorney Nora R. Dannehy in Connecticut, who was named last year in the Bush administration, I might add, to probe whether any crimes were committed in connection with the firings. But both Miers and Rove were accompanied by lawyers during their interviews with Dannehy and the House this summer and no doubt benefitted from excellent legal advice designed to highlight any pitfalls or false statement traps that might have emerged.

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Washington DC: Can we all agree now that Karl Rove lied?

Carrie Johnson: I'm a law enforcement and legal affairs reporter, not a political analyst but it seems to me that when Karl Rove is involved, unanimity of views is next to impossible. He's just that polarizing a figure.

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Silver Spring, MD: I remember the days after the election when there was talk of investigations and trials about the Bush administration. My neighbor, who is even more liberal than me, was thirsting for retribution against Rove, Cheney, Bush, et al. I told him "no." It is simply not in the nature of Americans to do that; we are always wanting to "move on" to the next thing.

For all of the anger and denials around Rove and the firing of the prosecutors a few years ago, I think most Americans today would shrug and say:

"Sure, Rove and the administration wanted to boot the appointed prosecutors who were not supporting their agenda. We don't have a tape of him saying that directly, but everyone knew it. So what? It's 2009 and we have a lot of important things going on NOW."

America, always moving forward.

Carrie Johnson: Thanks for your comments. You've hit on a real, ongoing point of debate here.

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Albuquerque, N.M.: A complete discussion would include the disclosure that the successor AG was able to obtain indictments against the current and former treasurers of NM. It is apparent to all of us who live here that the pay-for-play schemes were allowed to proceed for far too long. Gov Richardson is still under investigation.

Carrie Johnson: Thanks NM -- you've helped answer an earlier question.

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Brookline, Mass.: The media's obsession with a former President's completely legal replacement of US attorneys does nothing to improve your credibility.

It doesn't matter if Karl Rove, star of paranoid conspiracy theories, plastered the oval office door with demands to fire them - as long as they were not fired to impede an investigation, such as Patrick Fitzgerald's current investigation of Tony Rezko and other Obama associates.

It would be nice if you could devote the same attention to Obama's firing of Inspectors General who discover wrongdoing by his friends and donors, or the justice department dismissal of a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panthers that it had already won, or the SEIU beating of an opponent of Obama's health care plan.

Carrie Johnson: Brookline, I'd like to point out that my energetic colleague Ed O'Keefe has covered the Inspector General firings this year by the Obama administration with his typical panache.

The investigations by Congress and a federal prosecutor were launched to determine whether any improper meddling or case tampering took place -- let's wait to see what conclusion Dannehy draws.

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Western Pennsylvania : Our area's US Attorney Marybeth Buchanan was one of the darlings of Bush, Rove et al. -- going after high-profile Democrat Cyril Wecht in a hugely expensive lengthy investigation and trial that ultimately came to naught, as well as getting a conviction and multi-month(!) prison-sentence for Tommy Chong for selling drug paraphernalia through the mails.

My question is: why has the Obama kept a political hatchet-woman like Buchanan on as a U.S. attorney for so long? She should've been out of office the afternoon of Jan. 20.

Carrie Johnson: We did a story on this issue a few months back -- the Obama folks are now well launched on the process of nominating and confirming their own picks for the 93-odd US attorney posts around the country. The first batch I believe was confirmed by the Senate late last week. But they were careful to try to avoid political firestorm and disruption by replacing all the prosecutors at once, as happened to some detriment early in the Clinton years. Worth noting that the association of assistant U.S. attorneys had specifically petitioned the DOJ transition team NOT to do an en masse replacement this time and it's clear that the WH, Deputy Atty General David Ogden and Associate AG Tom Perrelli listened.

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D.C.: As a former Conyers staffer I'm disappointed. We finally get the answer we all knew was coming, that Rove and the Bush WH were improperly using politics to attempt to influence elections and we get NO criminal charges? How are we better off now that we know for certain? There's still no accountability.

Carrie Johnson: Well, I'd wait to see what the criminal prosecutor Dannehy concludes, but many folks believe it's important for the historical record to have a full airing of these documents and transcripts.

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Washington, DC: Excuse me, but "not interfering with prosecutions" and firing U.S. Attorneys for not prosecuting enough Democrats is a distinction without a difference. Both Miers and Rove interfered with the internal processes of the Justice Department. Nothing would make me happier than for both of them to do time. But I'll settle for being bankrupted by legal fees.

Carrie Johnson: Thanks -- sort of follows the last question.

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Yalie: The document release yesterday was wholly unsurprising to me, but just wondering what Rove's defenders at Fox News and in the conservative media have to say about this whole thing? They've tried so hard to spin this, but you can't deny the evidence.

Carrie Johnson: Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, late yesterday issued a statement absolving Rove and others and bashing the Democrats for continuing to beat a dead horse issue. Was still reading through 6,000 pages of documents last night so did not track what the cable TV stations were doing with this story.

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Montgomery, Ala.: If there was a case waiting for prosecution and he was stalling it sounds like he was acting in a partisan manner to influence elections. Being fired for not doing your job is what happens when you don't do your job. Being held accountable is what separates us from Iran, where prosecutions are based on politics, not merit.

Carrie Johnson: Thanks for your question, Montgomery.

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New York: Thanks for taking our questions. Has there been any recent coverage of Richard Armitage, who was deputy Sec of State at the time when Robert Novak was wondering about Joe Wilson? Since he was the source of the Valerie Plame CIA fiasco, has Richard ever paid a price for his slip of the tongue or has all of this Valerie/Joe Wilson turmoil just been dumped at the feet of Karl Rove?

Carrie Johnson: I have not heard or read much about Armitage lately but I think he has occasionally served as a commenter on Bush national security policy. He was never charged with any wrongdoing in the Plame affair--an issue that continues to rankle some Republicans--and neither was Rove.

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Always moving forward...: I understand that sentiment, but it also assures those in power of never being held accountable. Had we not "moved forward" from Watergate, maybe we wouldn't have had Iran Contra. Had we not "moved forward" from that, maybe we wouldn't have had torture and illegal wiretapping. (Some of the players in these various episodes have in fact been the same.) "Moving forward" at this point virtually guarantees that we will see similar (or worse) wrongdiong in the future. But that's OK, because we'll just "move forward" then too...

Carrie Johnson: Thank you -- we're going to have this debate again, and more passionately, when the CIA IG report on detainee abuse emerges....

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NWDC: Since Obama has assumed the position of president, there has been lots of talk about not bringing up past officials in the previous administration on charges. Based on the fact that these documents show the White House clearly lied and was deceitful, what is the liklihood that other memos and decisions will be more closely examined instead of being given "a pass". I.E. Torture memos, intelligence memos about going to war, etc. that were not popular, but were to date accepted because the new adminstration did not want to make it look political. It seems like they could very well look into many actions now and say they're simply looking for the truth...

Carrie Johnson: Thanks I agree there are many implications across a spectrum of issues...

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Bangkok, Thailand: I can't figure out why Bush US Attorneys, like the one who convicted former Governor Don Siegelman, are still serving. Can you?

Carrie Johnson: I believe that Alice Martin and Leura Canary, the Bush US Attys in Alabama, have both left... In the past few weeks many of the holdovers have announced their departures and of course a whole bunch departed even before the Nov 08 election.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: What if Harriet Myers were on the Supreme Court? How would this have affected her reputation and ability to serve on the Court?

Carrie Johnson: Harriet Miers said she did not recall events connected to the firings something like 150 times over the course of her House Judiciary deposition in June, according to the transcript I reviewed.

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Bowie, Md.: What I don't understand is how can Rove say that he doesn't remember doing this? The emails suggest (I am relying on news reports) he was clearly in the know on the firings of one or more USAs. Wasn't it his job to understand the political ramifications of the White House/Pres. Bush actions? Isn't the firing of these USAs an EOP action?

I don't care if Rove goes to jail or not, but please don't let him seemingly avoid the questions about his involvement in this episode. I mean really, I can't remember if what I had for lunch 6 months ago, but I can remember every conversation I had and whether I responded to an e-mail. Besides, isn't he an information junkie? I thought his bold strategy was to win the presidency for Bush but understanding vast amounts of data about individual precincts and states...seems like his memory worked perfectly well then.

Carrie Johnson: I don't think we in the press or on the Hill "seemingly let Rove avoid" anything. I interviewed him for more than an hour last month, reviewed lots of previously unavailable documents, and two weeks ago wrote a story saying he and others in the WH were more involved in the prosecutor firings than previously understood.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Whatever happened to the female DOJ attorney who was fired because she was suspected of being gay? As I recall, she had a stellar resume, and a woman in the Bush administration thought - never proved - that the woman was a lesbian and thus had to be removed. She was also blacklisted, as I recall. Does Rove factor into this? Has this woman found a job, and is losing your job because you're gay (or not) discrimination?

Carrie Johnson: My understanding is that she had reached or was in the process of reaching a favorable (to her) settlement with the Justice Department.

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Harrisburg, Pa..: There is always more interest in alleged corruption when someone is in office. Public interest is less once someone is no longer in office, which may be why some try to delay proceedings until they are out of office. Or perhaps they might step down from office. Yet, from your observations, are prosecutors any less aggressive once a person leaves office? Does the less public pressure lower their zeal? Or are most prosecutors professional and they follow where the evidence leads? How much impact does public interest have on prosecutions?

Carrie Johnson: It's hard to say -- I don't think prosecutors are really "supposed" to take this factor into account and some don't. Look, for instance, at the ongoing grand jury investigating financial issues connected to former Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards in North Carolina.

But in my experience the reality is that most prosecutors have limited time and other resources, and they do consider the most bang for their buck in deciding which cases to pursue as part of their daily calculus about their discretion.

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tuskegee, AL: Alice Martin did leave last month in favor of her successor, Joyce Vance, daughter in law of the late Judge Vance and wife of a prominent county judge, but Leura Canary is still indicting people as of today, not sure how she can do that if she's left.

Carrie Johnson: Thanks so much Tuskegee for the correction...I will check on this issue.

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New York, NY: Based on the news reporting, there seems to have been a perception, among some WH operatives, that some U.S. Attorneys had brought prosecutions that helped Republican candidates. A U.S. Attorney who brought a prosecution to assist a candidate would violate any number of laws and rules, and is there any investigation into - and potential consequences from - those U.S. Attorney's actions?

Carrie Johnson: Conyers included this as part of his lengthy 2 1/2 year investigation but I don't think the House was able to uncover any clear documentary evidence to support it.

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Anonymous: Seems to me the big losers here are the fired attorneys ( who could I suppose sue for something or the other ) and Sen Leahy who promised to get to the bottom of this. Don't Leahy's words have a bit of a hollow ring now ?

Carrie Johnson: One of the fired US Attys, Dan Bogden of Nevada, was recently renominated with support from Sen. Harry Reid and the Obama White House. Many of the other 8 have gone on to find work in the private sector and they are now keeping a relatively low public profile. Not sure that Sen. Leahy has suffered at all as you suggest...

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Carrie Johnson: Thanks for the insightful questions and a healthy back and forth - just what the doctor ordered for a mid August recess.

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