No Charges Expected in Dismissal of Attorneys
WASHINGTON - A Justice Department investigation offers a blistering critique of the political motivations that led to the firings of a group of United States attorneys in late 2006 but stops short of recommending criminal charges against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or others in the affair, officials said.
The Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility have been investigating the firings since last year, trying to determine who in the Bush administration ordered the firings, whether the dismissals were intended to thwart investigations and whether anyone had broken the law in carrying out the firings or in testifying about them.
Officials with the department refused to discuss the report in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, though it has been the subject of Web reports since Friday. A lawyer for Mr. Gonzales declined to comment.
Mr. Gonzales, who resigned last year after coming under criticism because of the firings, has been the main focus of interest, in part because several members of Congress charged that he may have perjured himself in his testimony through his memory lapses and misstatements about the firings.
But officials with knowledge of the inspector general's investigation and defense lawyers who have been involved in it said they did not expect that the investigation would recommend that criminal charges be pursued at this point against Mr. Gonzales or other officials. The report was expected to recommend that investigators continue to pursue some elements of the case, meaning that the legal questions around Mr. Gonzales would continue.
One former official with knowledge of the investigation, who like others spoke about the report only on condition of anonymity, said that much of the criticism in the findings was expected to center on Kyle Sampson, who was Mr. Gonzales's chief of staff and carried out the firings of eight prosecutors.
The report was also expected to produce evidence that Mr. Sampson was carrying out directives crafted by more senior officials, including Mr. Gonzales; Karl Rove, the former political adviser to President Bush; and Harriet E. Miers, a former White House counsel. A lawyer for Mr. Sampson declined to comment.
A lawyer with knowledge of the investigation said the report would not change the basic story line that the prosecutors, several of whom were working on sensitive public corruption cases, were fired in large part because they were not considered loyal team players who could faithfully carry out the White House's agenda.
But the investigation did unearth some e-mail messages that were not disclosed to Congressional investigators during their own review of the controversy last year, the lawyer said, and that e-mail and other evidence are expected to shed new light on the motivations for the firings.
The dismissal that has drawn the most scrutiny is that of David C. Iglesias, who was fired as the United States attorney in New Mexico after clashing with Republicans over what they saw as his slow pursuit of Democrats in a corruption investigation.
One central question is the role officials at the White House, including Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers, played in the firings. But Paul K. Charlton, who was fired as United States attorney in Arizona after clashing with supervisors in Washington over a number of policies and investigations, said he was concerned that the inspector general's limited jurisdiction and the White House's refusal to turn over key records might have stymied the investigation.
The inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducted a joint investigation, have kept their findings under tight guard before the public release, declining to discuss any details with central players in the investigation or their lawyers. "It's been a lockdown," one defense lawyer said.