Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mukasey Appoints Special Prosecutor to Investigate U.S. Attorney Firings

Mukasey Appoints Special Prosecutor to Investigate U.S. Attorney Firings


U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Image: Diego M. Radzinschi/Legal Times

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the firings of several U.S. Attorneys in 2006, as a report released Monday by Justice Department watchdogs found "significant evidence" that several of the attorneys fired in 2006 were let go for partisan or political reasons (pdf). The report recommended the appointment of a prosecutor with subpoena powers to continue the investigation.

Top department officials had said the firings were performance-related, but the report, by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director H. Marshall Jarrett, found otherwise. It also describes the department's top two officials at the time, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, as "remarkably unengaged" in the firing process and cites both for making "inconsistent, misleading and inaccurate" public statements about the firings.

The report found that the White House was involved in three of nine firings, though it could not determine to what extent. Investigators say they were stymied by the lack of cooperation from key witnesses, including former White House adviser Karl Rove and White House counsel Harriet Miers. Both are subjects of congressional subpoenas by committees investigating the matter. The report found the Justice Department "had reasonable concerns" about only two of the fired U.S. Attorneys.

On Tuesday, Gonzales' lawyer, George Terwilliger III, a partner at White & Case, said the report "makes clear that Judge Gonzales engaged in no wrongful or improper conduct while recognizing, as he has acknowledged many times, that the process for evaluating U.S. attorney performance in this instance was flawed." Gonzales released a statement saying that he and his family "are glad to have the investigation of my conduct in this matter behind us and we look forward to moving on to new challenges."

But it isn't clear, especially with the appointment of a special prosecutor, that Gonzales can leave the investigation behind.

Mukasey announced the appointment of career prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate the firings as the report was released Monday. Dannehy, currently the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and a veteran of the office's white-collar and public-corruption section, will be able to subpoena witnesses to help her investigation, something the authors of the report couldn't do.

The report specifically recommends that Dannehy investigate whether Justice Department officials made false statements to Congress or to investigators or violated other federal criminal statutes, including obstruction of justice or wire fraud.

The report says Gonzales and McNulty deferred to D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, in the firings, despite their responsibility to oversee the department. The report describes Sampson as the architect of the firing plan, and cites him for inappropriately advocating the use of internal appointments to bypass the Senate confirmation process for U.S. Attorneys.

"We believe that the primary responsibility for these serious failures rest with senior department leaders -- Gonzales and McNulty -- who abdicated their responsibility to adequately oversee the process," the report says.

In the most extreme example of partisan influence cited in the report, David Iglesias, the former U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, was fired after Sen. Pete Domenici, Rep. Heather Wilson and other New Mexico Republicans complained of his refusal to prosecute a local Democrat or and voter fraud cases on the eve of the 2006 elections.

Another U.S. Attorney, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, was sacked because the White House wanted to give the job to its then-director of political affairs, Tim Griffin.

Talk of firing the U.S. Attorneys began shortly after Bush's re-election campaign in 2004, the report says. At different points, Miers, and later White House adviser Karl Rove, asked about firing all 93 U.S. Attorneys, but Sampson argued via e-mail that senators would likely resist the firing of U.S. Attorneys they had recommended for appointment in their home states, and it would draw too much attention.

Instead, Sampson proposed firing a few of the "underperforming" U.S. Attorneys, and after Gonzales was confirmed as attorney general and Miers replaced him as White House counsel in early 2005, Sampson began cobbling together the first of several lists.

Some of those named in the report, including Sampson, say they have cooperated with the investigation. Sampson is now a partner at Hunton & Williams.

Sampson's lawyer, Bradford Berenson, a partner at Sidley Austin, said: "It is 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."

Gonzales, who has not held a full-time job since resigning, took work in June as an assistant to a special master on a patent casein Texas. McNulty, who resigned in May 2007, joined Baker & McKenzie's Washington office.


Rodrigo González Fernández
Diplomado en RSE de la ONU
oficina: Renato Sánchez 3586 of. 10
Teléfono: OF .02-  8854223- CEL: 76850061
e-mail: rogofe47@mi.cl
Santiago- Chile
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