TPM News

While the House is consumed by the failure to pass the bailout bill, several senators on the Judiciary Committee have had a chance to respond to the DOJ report on the U.S. attorney firings, released this morning. Here's a rundown on what some of them have said:

Judiciary chair Pat Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement: "This report might have told us even more if the investigation had not been impeded by the Bush administration's refusal to cooperate and provide documents and witnesses, just as they remain in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee's investigation," Leahy said. "In this debacle as in others, the Bush administration's self-serving secrecy has shrouded many of their most controversial policies -- from torture, to investigating the causes of 9/11, to wiretapping."

Leahy also said he intended to look into former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony to Congress about the firings, for evidence of possible perjury. And he warned that if President Bush chose to pardon anyone ultimately convicted of a crime in connection with the firings, such a move would be seen by the nation as an admission of wrongdoing.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking minority member on the committee told reporters that there's no indication that the White House is planning such pardons, but said he'd be quick to push back if it did.

At a press conference, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former U.S. attorney himself, questioned the effectiveness of the investigation to be led by federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy. He said that it's unclear whether Dannehy will have the power to subpoena White House officials, and whether her probe would focus narrowly on the question of whether a crime was committed by Gonzales and his deputies, rather than being able to look at a possible cover-up by the administration. Whitehouse asserted: "There is a cover-up, and it continues."

Whitehouse also singled out Mukasey for blame, noting that the DOJ's own Office of Legal Counsel has not cooperated with the report. "If he's willing to accept a White House cover-up, if he's willing to accept the inspector general being hindered, then we, I think, should have further questions of the attorney general," Whitehouse said. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) , who received an anonymous tip in January 2007 that led to the investigation, wrote in a press release: "The Inspector General report released today confirms our worst fears, and makes it clear that this was a scandal that went to the highest levels of the Department of the Justice, and that the role of the White House was in fact prominent."

David Iglesias, the former US attorney whose dismissal was deemed the "most troubling" in today's IG report, says he still wants to see the full range of evidence about the White House's possible role in the firing. That includes all relevant emails and notes from meetings -- information the White House held back from the IG's investigators.

"That's the critical bit of information that we don't have right now," Iglesias told TPMmuckraker. He added: "I suspect that the information is going to have to be forced out of the administration."

Still, the former U.S. attorney said he feels vindicated by the report's conclusion that he was removed not because of managerial deficiencies but thanks to political pressure from the office of GOP senator Pete Domenici and New Mexico Republican activists. That conclusion "is consistent with what I've been saying all along," he said.

Iglesias stressed that he was heartened by the Justice Department's appointment of a prosecutor, Nora Dannehy, in the case. "I"m glad that DOJ is taking this seriously," he said.

Karl Rove's involvement in the U.S. attorney firings has always been questioned, but additional information on a March 2007 meeting mentioned in the Inspector General's report today suggests that at the very least, Rove and other White House officials played an active role in crafting the release of information on the firings to the public.

Shortly after the U.S. attorney removals, when the DOJ was grappling to explain the justification behind the firings, communications between Alberto Gonzales' former chief-of-staff, Kyle Sampson and White House officials increased.

With former Assistant Attorney General William Moschella's testimony before Congress fast approaching, a group of DOJ and White House officials convened on March 5, to discuss "what Moschella should say in his testimony about the removals," as well as whether to testify to the specific reasons for the removals of the U.S. attorneys.

The meeting was called by Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley and was attended by Sampson; Paul McNulty, the deputy Attorney General; Moschella; Michael Elston, McNulty's chief of staff; White House Counsel Fred Fielding; Michael Battle, director of EOUSA; Associate White House Counsel Michael Scudder, and perhaps most importantly -- Karl Rove.

From page 84 of the report:

According to several witnesses, Rove came in to the meeting for only a few minutes and then left. Battle said Rove spoke at the meeting but he could not recall what he said. McNulty said that he could not specifically recall either, but thought Rove said something to the effect that Moschella's testimony should explain why the U.S. Attorneys were removed. None of the witnesses said they could recall specifically what Rove said at the meeting, although all agree that the discussion generally centered on what Moschella should say about the reasons for each U.S. Attorney's removal.

The Duke Cunningham case continues to bear fruit.

Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, formerly third from the top at the CIA, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he helped his old friend Brent Wilkes obtain CIA contracts at inflated prices.

Cunningham, the now-jailed former California GOP Congressman, had also admitted to taking bribes from Wilkes.

Though Foggo faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, prosecutors agreed that they will seek no more than three.

John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, released a statement today calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor from outside the Justice Department, to continue to investigate the U.S. attorney firings.

"We assume that Attorney General Mukasey will heed the report's call for further investigation, including determining whether criminal offenses were committed, and urge him to appoint a special counsel from outside the Justice Department to work with the Inspector General so the investigation will have the credibility and independence that it needs," Conyers said in a statement this morning.

In addition, because of Congress' impending adjournment, Conyers called an HJC hearing for this coming Friday to discuss the issues raised in the recently released IG report.

The just-released IG report on the US attorney firings lists the removal of David Iglesias as the "most troubling" of the eight. But it notes that thanks to stonewalling by the White House, DOJ officials, and the office of Sen. Pete Domenici, investigators didn't have access to the complete range of information on the reasons for the firing.

The report concludes that Iglesias was removed as a result of complaints brought to DOJ by New Mexico GOP members of Congress and party activists, and shows that Karl Rove knew in advance of the decision. It reveals that at a meeting on November 15, 2006, Rep. Heather Wilson told Rove: "Mr. Rove, for what it's worth, the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico is a waste of breath." Rove's response: ""That decision has already been made. He's gone."

But it states that IG investigators were unable to determine how Rove knew this (Iglesias wasn't notifed until December 7), and what his possible role in the decision was, because Rove and White House counsel Harriet Miers refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Similarly, it notes that Kyle Sampson, who as chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales took the lead in bringing about the firings, gave "misleading after-the-fact explanations for why Iglesias was placed on the list." The report concludes: "[W]e question whether Sampson provided us the full story about Iglesias's placement on the list, as well as the reasons for other U.S. Attorney removals."

And: "Our investigation was also hindered by the refusal of Senator Domenici and his Chief of Staff to agree to an interview by us." (In April, Domenici, who is retiring this year, received a "qualified admonition" from the Senate ethics committee for his role in the firing.)

Looks like the across-the-board effort to withhold information from the IG investigators was perhaps at its most intense in regard to the Iglesias firing.

In a scathing statement released this morning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) heralded the assignment of a prosecutor to the investigation into the removal of the U.S. attorneys stating "[p]erhaps a prosecutor can break down walls others cannot."

Leahy, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is holding a press conference at noon to discuss the findings of the IG report released this morning.

"This report verifies what our oversight efforts this Congress showed, that partisan, political interests in the prosecution of voter fraud and public corruption by the White House and some at the Department played a role in many of these firings," Leahy said in a statement.

"These abuses are corrosive to the very foundations of our system of justice."

Read all of Leahy's statement after the jump.

Read More →

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut as prosecutor in the continued investigation of the removal of nine U.S. attorneys.

The appointment comes at the request of a report released today by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility.

According to her biography on the Justice Department webpage, Dannehy became an acting U.S. attorney in April of this year. Prior to her appointment, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Connecticut District for 17 years and served as a Professional Responsibility Officer.

The IG report released today requests a special prosecutor to continue the work of the investigation into whether the nine U.S. attorneys removed in 2006 were fired for partisan political reasons.

From page 357 and 358 of the IG report:

The most serious allegation that we were not able to fully investigate related to the removal of David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, and the allegation that he was removed to influence voter fraud and public corruption prosecutions. We recommend that a counsel specially appointed by the Attorney General assess the facts we have uncovered, work with us to conduct further investigation, and ultimately determine whether the evidence demonstrates that any criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of Iglesias or any other U.S. Attorney, or the testimony of any witness related to the U.S. Attorney removals.

Late update: The report also describes the stonewalling the investigation received in trying to gather information on the removals. Specifically, it mentions a "fact memo" created for Alberto Gonzales by the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, which outlined the events chronologically, using a draft written by Michael Scudder, associate White House Counsel. Investigators were refused the timeline by the OLC who claimed they were ordered not to release it by the White House Counsel's office. From page 94 of the report:
We asked OLC for a copy of the memorandum and all the drafts, but OLC declined, stating that the White House Counsel's Office had directed OLC not to provide them to us. We thereafter engaged in discussions with the White House Counsel's Office during this investigation in an attempt to obtain the Scudder memorandum. The White House Counsel's Office agreed to read one paragraph of the memorandum to us, and provided us with two paragraphs of information concerning Rove that had already been reported publicly, but declined to provide any further information from the memorandum. Eventually, the White House Counsel's Office provided us with a heavily redacted version of the document. We believe the refusal to provide us with an unredacted copy of this document hampered our investigation.

The Justice Department Office of the Inspector General has released its 392 page tome on its findings in the investigation into the removal of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.

The report can be found here (pdf). We'll be digging through it all day, but since it's a monster of a report, we welcome you to sift through it and let us know in the comments section what you find.

We'll be bringing you updates throughout the day so stay tuned.