In 18 months of searching, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility chief H. Marshall Jarrett have uncovered new e-mail messages hinting at heightened involvement of White House lawyers and political aides in the firings of nine federal prosecutors two years ago.
they could not probe much deeper because key officials declined to be
interviewed and a critical timeline drafted by the White House was so
heavily redacted that it was "virtually worthless as an investigative
tool," the authorities said.
"We were unable to fully develop the
facts regarding the removal of [David C.] Iglesias and several other
U.S. Attorneys because of the refusal by certain key witnesses to be
interviewed by us, as well as the White House's decision not to provide
. . . internal documents to us," the investigators concluded in their
The standoff is a central reason that Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey
on Monday named a veteran public-corruption prosecutor, Nora R.
Dannehy, to continue the investigation, directing her to give him a
preliminary report on the status of the case in 60 days.
But lawmakers who helped expose irregularities in the ouster of the prosecutors say they are concerned about more delays.
Yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
(D-R.I.) wrote Mukasey a letter asking whether Dannehy would have the
authority to compel documents from the White House and testimony from
former presidential aide Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers, who rejected invitations to meet voluntarily with the inspector general.
also expressed concern that any information Dannehy may obtain would be
kept under wraps because of grand jury secrecy rules, leaving members
of the public in the dark. "There are a lot of questions that need to
be answered," Whitehouse said.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr
said that Dannehy will "have the same authority as any prosecutor to
pursue this investigation wherever the facts and the law require."
urged Dannehy to focus on the dismissal of Iglesias in New Mexico. He
was the subject of repeated complaints by Republican lawmakers to White
House and Justice Department officials in 2005 and 2006 over not
bringing voter-fraud and corruption charges against Democrats. Their
report said the internal probe at Justice could not reach Miers and
Rove, "both of whom appear to have significant first-hand knowledge
regarding Iglesias's dismissal."
The report depicts a steady
drumbeat of pressure leading up to the 2006 elections. Republican
former state senator Mickey D. Barnett e-mailed Rove in October to
complain about the pace of a federal bribery probe that Iglesias's
office was conducting against a Democratic rival. Barnett wrote that he
had already complained to Justice Department White House liaison Monica M. Goodling and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).
That same month, President Bush and Rove both spoke to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about rampant voter fraud in three cities, one in New Mexico, Gonzales told investigators.
November, Domenici's chief of staff, Steven Bell, e-mailed Rove
seething about voting issues in New Mexico and expressing "worry" about
Iglesias. Rove advised Bell to have Domenici reach out to the attorney
general. Around the same time, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty received a phone call from Miers, who passed along complaints about Iglesias that she had heard from Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.)
a White House breakfast in mid-November, Wilson approached Rove to tell
him that the U.S. attorney was a "waste of breath," according to her
interview with investigators. She said Rove told her: "That decision
has already been made. He's gone."
Less than three hours later, a
Justice Department official forwarded a firing list to the White House
Counsel's Office on which Iglesias's name appeared, giving rise to
questions about how Rove learned about its contents in advance, and
whether the department ultimately fired Iglesias for improper political
Robert D. Luskin, an attorney for Rove, said: "We'll
look forward to the opportunity if the circumstances are appropriate of
Rove being able to cooperate voluntarily. Rove has nothing to fear from
"If, in the course of her investigation, she
needs information, we will certainly want to accommodate her," White
House spokesman Tony Fratto said of Dannehy. A lawyer for Miers did not return calls seeking comment.